Disneyfication is evident in the upbeat numbers in this cast recording (‘cast recording’ being the proper term: ‘soundtracks’ are for movies), especially for anyone who has read the Mary Poppins books by PL Travers (1899-1996) – the books present a Mary Poppins who is, in short, strict and unsympathetic, at least to the Banks children themselves, and goes as far as asserting to them that their magical adventures didn’t really happen. Anyway, even the first few seconds of audience applause in this live recording, released at a time when theatres across England have been forced to close their doors once more (if, that is, they had reopened in the first place) brings back memories of happier times when gathering together wasn’t potentially lethal.
To be brutally honest, there probably are other people out there whose singing voices are more suited to the role of Bert than Charlie Stemp. There’s a certain charisma, enthusiasm and ruggedness, though, that goes well with the character, and the listener can also sit back and enjoy an authentic Cockney accent (you will recall Dick Van Dyke in the 1964 motion picture).
Graham Hurman conducts an orchestra of twelve through twenty-three musical numbers – hardly a walk in the park with songs as upbeat as ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’, ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ (a word recognised by Microsoft Word, on which this review was typed) and the ‘eleven o’clock number’, ‘Step in Time’. there are more subtle numbers, of course, perhaps the most notable being ‘Feed The Birds’, which sees octogenarian Petula Clark as the not-very-imaginatively named Bird Woman.
The harmonies in the bigger ensemble numbers are sufficiently delightful, and the child actors more than hold their own with their adult counterparts. As the recording was spliced together over several performances, there’s no telling which of the various Janes and Michaels are singing at any given moment. The only way, then, to give credit is to name them all as listed in the cast recording’s liner notes: Adelaide Barham, Imogen Bourn, Charlotte Breen, Ellie Kit Jones, Nuala Peberdy, Joseph Duffy, Samuel Newby, Gabriel Payne, Edward Walton, Fred Wilcox.
A fair bit of spoken dialogue appears in the recording, to the point where one need not actually have too much familiarity with the story before listening to figure out the gist of proceedings. Joseph Millson’s George Banks is an authoritative head of the household, firm and fair (for a man of his time, at least). Zizi Strallen plays a sprightly and confident Mary Poppins, not so much likeable as lovable, using gentle encouragement which works almost too perfectly on the precocious children.
Yes, it’s a sanitised and somewhat Americanised version of an interwar British nanny, even with a British creative team behind this production. But the sense of escapism this cast recording brings means that is almost neither here nor there. Some of the songs are a tad repetitive on paper, even by musical theatre standards, but they are delivered within such dynamism they are nonetheless highly pleasurable. It’s just that sort of musical. A worthy addition to a musical theatre lover’s cast recording collection, there are some memorable tunes to enjoy in this lively and thrilling album. You could even call it ‘Practically Perfect’.
Review by Chris Omaweng
M A R Y P O P P I N S
THE DEFINITIVE SUPERCALIFRAGILISTIC 2020 CAST RECORDING
LIVE AT THE PRINCE EDWARD THEATRE
www.Marypoppinsonstage.co.uk, @MaryPoppins, #MaryPoppins