Mary Poppins, Prince of Wales Theatre, London

Joyous spectacular goes down ... in the most delightful way
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The Independent Culture

With the premiere of Mary Poppins and the fall of the Home Secretary, what a night it was for nanny-power, onstage and off, and what a double cause for celebration... Remember the wonderful scene in the movie where the grim battle-axe nannies, gathered to apply for the job, are rudely borne aloft and blasted down Cherry Tree Lane by the wind that heralds the arrival of the heroine?

With the premiere of Mary Poppins and the fall of the Home Secretary, what a night it was for nanny-power, onstage and off, and what a double cause for celebration... Remember the wonderful scene in the movie where the grim battle-axe nannies, gathered to apply for the job, are rudely borne aloft and blasted down Cherry Tree Lane by the wind that heralds the arrival of the heroine?

This eagerly awaited stage version - the first co-production by Cameron Mackintosh and Disney - doesn't include that episode but it pulls off a comparable feat. With its magic and chutzpah, it simply blows away the opposition from rival West End musicals, emerging as the year's most joyous, spectacular and heart-tugging show in that genre.

Don't turn up expecting a dutiful transfer from screen to stage. True, many of the much-loved Sherman Brothers' songs are here, but there's no merry-go-round horse race, no dancing penguins, no tea-party on the ceiling.

Instead, the show, directed with huge flair, by Richard Eyre, has been reworked to incorporate more of the original P L Travers stories and it often finds exhilarating new contexts for the old numbers. For example, "Supercalifragilistic..." now erupts during a visit to a market where the visitors run out of conversation and have to buy an ounce of it from a raucous West Indian trader. There's a knockout sequence, choreographed by Matthew Bourne, where the cast literally dances out each letter of the word in an ever-giddier rush.

Instead of merging live performers and animation, "Jolly Holiday" is a delightful tease where all the antique statues in the park come alive and cavort to the consternation of the keeper drenched in rich blues, reds, and greens by Howard Harrison's lighting.

There's a batch of strong new songs by the English team of George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and a wonderfully fresh take on the book by Julian Fellowes.

Jane and Michael, beautifully played, are ruder and snobbier than their screen counterparts and thus more in need of reclaiming. Mrs Banks, played by Linzi Hately, is no longer the daffiest Suffragette on record but a woman confused and isolated by her workaholic husband's ambitions. David Haig's endearing Mr Banks emerges as the little boy who was frightened into a false, unfeeling persona by his own monstrous nanny.

As for Laura Michelle Kelly in the title role, she's superbly tantalizing and enigmatic, far more unknowable than the pert Julie Andrews. She sings and dances with sublime assurance and is, in the character's own self-assessment, "practically perfect in every way".

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