Credit: Johan Persson
Credit: Johan Persson

Confession time: I've never sat through the entire Mary Poppins movie in one sitting. It's never really appealed to me and for whatever reason it wasn't one that caught my attention during my childhood. So, going to the show at the Palace Theatre in Manchester last night (January 27), I wasn't sure on what to expect or if I'd even enjoy the production. So, imagine my surprise when I left the theatre calling it the best stage show I have ever seen.

From the opening 'Chim Chim Cher-ee' prologue I was smiling from ear to ear. Gorgeous and awe-inspiring set design from Bob Crowley immediately impressed as the Banks' Cherry Tree Lane home opened up like a pop-up story book, instantly enveloping the audience in the magical fantasy world.

Credit: Johan Persson
Credit: Johan Persson

Milo Twomey and Rebecca Lock felt incredibly genuine in their performances as George and Winifred Banks, the parents of little Jane and Michael - this night played by Lucy Simmons and Lewis Fernee. As a solid unit their chemistry was palpable - you believed they were a family of four, each with their own unique personalities and relatability.

Zizi Strallen took on the titular role as the first nanny ever able to tame the children and though she's met with some resistance at first, the kids grow to love her and learn from her valuable life lessons. Strallen is magical and lit up the stage each time she appeared on it, whether that be up through the chimney or flying in on her umbrella. Her voice was astounding, bringing life and character to every song she undertook. She is beyond a shadow of a doubt an incredible choice for a leading lady.

Credit: Johan Persson
Credit: Johan Persson

Opposite her was the charismatic award-winning Matt Lee as chimney sweep Bert. He's a true professional in the role and, dare I say he's the best man for the job when comparing to what I've seen of Dick Van Dyke? There was never a moment he let his energy slip despite tapping across the stage (and walls... and roof...), as he proved just why he's one of the leading choreographers in the business. If Mary Poppins is on stage in town and Matt's involved, you can guarantee you're going to get one heck of a performance.

That's not to say the rest of the cast were left out to dry. This truly felt like an ensemble piece where every single actor had their part to play and did so in style. Whether it was the beautifully voiced Grainne Renihan as the Bird Woman, the vibrant Wreh-asha Walton as Mrs Corry or the hilarious Wendy Ferguson as Mrs Brill, they ensured there was never a dull moment.

Major highlights came in 'Practically Perfect', 'A Spoonful of Sugar' and 'Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' (just TRY saying it backwards) and despite the show sometimes relying on reprisals of songs already sung to move the story ahead, each time they were performed they felt fresh and relevant.

Credit: Johan Persson
Credit: Johan Persson

At times there were genuinely heartfelt and touching exchanges and you believed every word that came from the cast's lips. They're an incredible group of talents and I couldn't be happier to have finally joined the ranks of Mary Poppins fans across the globe. If I could give the show more than five stars, I would.

Mary Poppins runs in the Palace Theatre, Manchester until March 5.


by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
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