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Practically Perfect (In Every Way)

Practically Perfect (In Every Way)

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Practically perfect in every way. This is the perfect sentence to describe the newest Disney theatrical creation!

Tuesday night, I arrived in London for a business trip. And I found myself on the subway (or the "Tube," as Londoners tend to refer to it) looking at that massive advertising campaign that has been mounted for the new "Mary Poppins" musical. Which is being presented at the brandly new refurbished Prince Edward theatre" in London's Soho district.

This 10-years-in-the-making production is actually a co-production between Disney (who owns the movie rights to P.L. Travers' characters as well as all the songs that were created for the 1964 film) and Cameron Mackintosh (the legendary producer that the author awarded the theatrical rights to) and it is sure to become a smash. Given that the stage version of "Poppins" takes all the characters that we know & love from the film and deepens them, creating an all-new piece entertainment that's much more reminiscent of the quirky tone of the original books.

Opening night was a blast. Old Compton street was completely closed to traffic and a red carpet ceremony was held before the show. Disney legends Richard & Robert Sherman (writers of the orignal songs) were the first to enter the theatre to the great emotion of the Disney fans present, quickly followed by Julian Fellows (writer of the book adaption) and George Stiles (writer of the additional music).

Then it was time for Disney's European top brass to come in. Cindy Rose and Andy Bird (MD and COO of Disney operations in Europe and based in London) were smiling like I haven't seen many managers do (it was a heartfelt smile, and Bird actually applauded the Sherman brothers in front of the public). Thomas Shumacher was in his best PR mode knowing he had a winner up his sleeve and proving that this theatrical business really is his piece of cake.

Last but not least the dynamic duo followed the British celebrities coming in, Robert Iger and Michael Eisner both trotted by journalists praising the effort done by Disney and Mackintosh to come together on this magical production.

What anyway stuck me most was *** Cook, chief of the studios department and the person who actually convinced Mackintosh to accept Disney's proposal for a collaboration. This ever-loved guy practically stayed in low profile all night, wasn't interviewed on the red carpet and.....cried with joy at the end of the show (I was seated 3 seats on his right).

The show is a magical experience from start to finish. The cast is especially impressive and strong. The sets are exquisitely devised and most of all the scenes play with that perfect blending between the book and the movie.

As in the movie Bert acts as a narrator, introducing us to Number 17 Cherry tree lane, a drawing of the house as seen from outside is used both as curtain and as a narrating device. Gavin Lee (portraying Bert) is a young and talented performer, proving scene by scene that he can stand in those difficult-to-fill *** van *** shoes.

Talented and physically fit (to portray such an active character), Lee particularly impresses in those one-to-one moments with Mary Poppins where he plays on the flirting already present in the movie as well as in the impressive "step in time" number (more on that later, folks).

The Banks family in this theatre version of the book is much more human-like, right in the middle of various personal problems such as the risk of losing his job for Mr Banks, the coming back of his childhood dream for the stars and flying kites, as well as Mrs. Banks' personal problems of having to give up her acting carrier to be Mrs. Banks and not being able to be loved by her husband.

This inside story of the Banks family heavily relies on two incredible actors, David Haig and Linzi Hately, both well known West End performers. They bring a depth to the characters which makes the production even more appreciatable on an adult level, showing just how much passion and intricate storytelling P.L. Travers actually gave to her books.

And then -- when the wind changes -- here comes the nanny that we all would have loved to have, the one and only Mary Poppins!

Right from her entrance, we are in awe by the incredibly talented Laura Michelle Kelly. From r the first words she speaks, Kelly's talk, voice and physicality mesmerize us. Bringing us back to the first time that we actually saw this character in the film, perched on top of a cloud.

Kelly fills Julie Andrew's shoes perfectly, taking the character where Andrews left it and bringing something of her own to it. Which leaves us to believe that we have a sure-to-be-a-star standing on stage. (Disney is already keeping an eye on this fabulous actress. Kelly has played Belle in the stage version of "Beauty and the Beast" as well as playing Eliza Dolittle in "My Fair Lady." Just like Julie Andrews did.)

With the children in place (a particularly sarcastic Michael and an actress portraying Jane -- 11-year-old Charlotte Spencer -- who seems to have stepped taright out of the movie -- the cast brings to life all of the incredible stories that are associated with the arrival of the spit spot nanny.

The scenes start off as being familiar to those who know the "Mary Poppins" movie but then veer off into directions that are much more familiar to fans of the P.L. Travers books. For example, the stroll in the park suddenly becomes a dance with a group of statues who sing "Jolly Holiday."

During a day at the market, Mary and the children find that the people there have run out of conversation. So what does Mary say people do when people run out of things to say? "They go to Mrs. Cory."

Mrs. Cory is this hyperactive women who says she's so old that she's seen Adrian and Caesar fight wars. She gave gingerbread stars to a young Mr. Banks and gives cookies in the shape of words to people left without speech.

From a simple game of scrabble with these cookies, the children start inventing words and-- helped by Bert and Mrs. Cory it doesn't take much for Mary to come up with "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious".

This number is a real showstopper. With first the whole cast perfoming the song with various acting-out of the letters. Then a screen comes down and the words start to appear in a sing-along fashion. Which allows teh audience to get in on the fun.

Particularly impressive is the "Step in Time" scene. Played with a similar start to the movie (With the children and Mary meeting Bert up on the rooftops), this scene take an impressive twist after the whole cast song and dance when Bert shouts "OK, lads. I'm going for it ! OVER THE ROOF TOPS." He then runs towards the stage right curtain, where Bert places one foot at a time on the wall and walk-dances up the side of the stage. Then -- once he reaches the top of stage -- Bert starts doing the "Step in Time" dance with Mary and the cast following his lead on the stage below.

And if you feel that this 180° dance cannot be topped, wait for the show's ending. Where the Banks family, finally having found its happiness again, draws stars in the theatre and sings songs about dreams and stars. Here, Bert and Mary kiss (on the cheek) and Mary says goodbye to the family whilst the final "Let's Go Fly a Kite" song plays.

Here comes the show-stopping number, my friends. The moment where I saw *** cook shed a tear (just like me). We see Mary fly on top of the stage posing with the bag and umbrella. She then flies from the left of the stage towards the right. Just when she reaches the centre of the stage, Mary smiles and -- after winking an eye -- starts flying towards the audience. She circles and then flies right tos the top of the theatre, eventually disappearing on the highest note of the "Let's Go Fly a Kite?" song.

Gosh, what an ending, folks. I'm still electrified by it!

What else can I say about this incredible production? It took a great effort by the producers and the cast to bring this magical production to life and I do suggest that you make a point during your next trip to London to see this show. "Mary Poppins" is almost certain to win many theatrical awards. It has an incredibly talented cast and some great new songs. But -- most of all -- it is in an enchanting story that once again brings together together the talents of the Walt Disney Company and P.L. Travers. But in a bold new way.

For me, personally, this unexpected evening of theater was practically perfect in everyway!

TTFN! Tata for now!

Andrea "Mickeyfantasmic" Monti

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