It's been kind of a sore point for a
while now (at least among theatre fans & Disney audiophiles) that the only recording
of the "Mary Poppins" stage musical which was available for purchase was the original London cast recording of this show.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Cameron Mackintosh Limited
"And why was this a sore point?," you ask. Because Disney & Cameron
Mackintosh had tweaked this show in dozens of different ways since "Mary
Poppins" opened in the West End in December of 2004. Everything from
dramatically overhauling "Jolly Holiday" for the Broadway production in November
of 2006 to replacing "Temper, Temper" with "Playing the Game" as "Poppins" launched
its North American tour in March of 2009.
Which is why -- when people who'd seen the Broadway production, the North
American tour or one of the international tours would purchase a copy of the
only available cast recording of "Mary Poppins" and then pop it into their CD
player -- they'd listen to a few songs and then think "This really isn't the
show that I saw."
Laura Michelle Kelly as Mary and Gavin Lee as Bert in the West Endproduction of "Mary Poppins." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Cameron Mackintosh Limited
To give Disney Theatrical & Cameron Mackintosh credit, they too recognized
this problem (i.e. that the original London cast recording really didn't
reflect the stage musical of "Mary Poppins" as it currently exists). Which is
why they then decided that it was high time to produce an all-new cast
recording of this show.
But which production of "Poppins" should
Disney & Mackintosh record? These two theatrical organizations honestly
couldn't decide until they gathered in Melbourne a year ago this week for the opening of the first Australian
production of this acclaimed stage show. Once they heard Verity Hunt-Ballard in
the title role (more importantly, how crisp and sharp the rest of Hunt-Ballard's
supporting cast sounded), Disney Theatrical & Cameron Mackintosh knew that
this was the version of "Mary Poppins" that they needed to record.
Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne, "Mary Poppins" first stop on its tour of Australia.Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Cameron Mackintosh Limited
So how did Verity react when she learned
that Disney & Mackintosh intended to do a cast recording of the Australian
production of "Mary Poppins" ? "We were all over the moon," Ms. Hunt-Ballard
recalled. "So many shows are recorded
overseas but rarely here in the land of OZ!"
Now what was going to make this new cast recording of "Mary Poppins" different
from the West End version was that Disney Theatrical & Cameron Mackintosh
wanted to record this one live. So that the Australian cast recording would
(hopefully) capture some of the energy & magic of this live stage show while
- at the same time - give the listener a sense of how your typical audience
reacts to "Poppins."
Verity Hunt-Ballard and Matt Lee take their bows with the Australian touring productionof "Mary Poppins." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Cameron Mackintosh Limited
So how did Verity and her fellow
castmates prepare for this this live cast recording? "We all (did) a bit of 'clean
up' vocally with our musical directors," Ms. Hunt-Ballard remembered. "(We also
did) a day of chopping the odd sound ... here and there."
And after all that prep, it was
showtime. Literally. The engineers set up their recording equipment inside of Her
Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne. And - over a single weekend - they recorded
five different performances of the stage version of "Mary Poppins." And once
these audio engineers got back to their editing bay, they then selected the
best possible performance of each individual song from those five shows. And
using that material, the audio engineers then stitched those numbers together
to create this live cast recording.
Matt Lee, Verity Hunt-Ballard and the cast of the Australian production of "Mary Poppins" perform "Step in Time." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Cameron Mackintosh Limited
So what was it like to appear in "Poppins"
that weekend, knowing that your performance was being recorded for posterity?
Verity admitted that " ... performing whilst knowing your being recorded adds a
certain extra element of pressure. (But) we all just knuckled down and
performed the shows as we always have."
So how did it feel - a few months later -
for Ms. Hunt-Ballard to then be able to hold a physical copy of this live cast
recording in her hand? Verity described it as "... a very special moment ... I was a little nervous as I pressed play on
the CD player. But as I listened to it with Matt Lee (Editor's note: Lee plays
Bert to Hunt-Ballard's Mary), we were very happy with the end product and we
both had a huge sense of honour and pride. It's so exciting knowing (that) all
of our efforts and hard work have been captured forever."
Verity Hunt-Ballard, Matt Lee and the cast of the Australian production of "MaryPoppins" perform "Supercalifragilisticexpialocious." Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Cameron Mackintosh Limited
Does Ms. Hunt-Ballard have a favorite part
of this recording? Verity told me that " ... it's very hard to have just one
favourite part of the disc because so many parts mean different things to me. But
highlights are 'Supercal..." and 'Step In Time" and signing the beautiful duet of
'Feed The Birds' with Debra Byrne."
So how does the live cast recording compare to the original London cast
recording of "Mary Poppins" ? I threw both CDs into my laptop yesterday and gave
them a listen. And while Matt Lee's Bert isn't really in the same league as
Gavin Lee's iconic performance of this role, the Australian version of "Poppins"
does ultimately come across a warmer, more emotionally-satisfying production of
this show than the West End version. If only because this cast recording of "Mary
Poppins" features numbers that didn't make it into the London version like "Precision
and Order," which gives the listener a more fully-rounded view of Mr. Banks and
the pressures that he's under at work.
So if you're a completist and/or haven't yet gotten around to buying an
original cast recording of the stage version of "Mary Poppins," this live cast recording
- while it may not exactly be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious - is
very good indeed.
Agreed, Matt Lee was admittedly a fairly disappointing Bert. While adequate, I too was comparing him to Gavin Lee (who I saw in the original London production) and that's a very tough act to live up to. One point in the soundtrack that I cringe at every time is when he says "wonderland" in the Aussiest of Aussie accents. Verity is a magnificent Mary (saw her on stage twice, and she is amazing) and the soundtrack overall is excellent. Only thing that grates a bit is the applause, which sometimes sounds completely wrong for its context and has obviously been post-edited to sound more enthusiastic than it really would have been. (ie. huge wolf whistles and belting cheers after the first "Brimstone and Treacle?" Hardly!) I saw Poppins on stage 3 times in Melbourne, and this CD is a fantastic memento of the show. :-)
Remembering Matt Lee comes from a purely dancing background, his efforts in the Australian production are pretty stellar. I saw the show in Sydney, and thought it was spectacular. Reviewers of the Australian production have actually stated they found Hunt-Ballard better than Julie Andrews herself.
I am looking forward to hearing the new recording, which is on its way here from Amazon. However, it saddens me that Disney seems to regard this as the only recording at this point. It appears from its unavailability on Amazon that the US release of the London recording is now out of print, which is a tremendous shame. Though it does not reflect the changes to the show lately, it is still a tremendously satisfying disc, and I was very pleased with it after seeing the show. Laursa Michelle Kelly and Gavin Lee in particular do a wonderful job on it and the whole cast is just so good. It is a shame that US customers now havve to resort to imports from London or secondhand places to get a copy of this. (Of course, the MP3 is still available, but some people like myself will always want physical discs.) Disney really should keep both discs in print, as I'm sure there is a market for both.
Although it's nice to have a recording of "Mary Poppins" that's truer to the show as it stands now I do wish that there would have been an Original Broadway Cast album.
Seems to me that recording the show live in Australia not only saved on recording studio expenses but also gets around royalty payments that would have been due to the actors and musicians of the American production.
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