“Where did all the happy endings go? Where can all the good times be?” asks Eglantine Price. Is there an adult in the audience who isn’t thinking the same? As the song goes, many of us are at ‘The Age of Not Believing’ but Disney always has the magic formula for transporting us to another world. And it feels like Michael Harrison’s new stage show of Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks has arrived at the perfect moment for bringing this 50-year-old classic to a wider audience.
The musical arrives at The Lowry on a nationwide tour that launched last year, bringing live theatre back with a sparkle of fairy dust after the lockdown. At the time the cast and crew couldn’t have known the current poignancy of their opening scene, which sees orphans evacuating after their parents are killed when bombs destroy their home during WWII air raids on the city.
Just when it looks like things can’t get much worse for the three youngsters – Charlie, Carrie and Paul – they find themselves in the reluctant care of the eccentric Miss Price, who horror upon horrors doesn’t even eat fried food! Charlie, the eldest at age-13, decides to take charge and organise their escape. But as the trio stare out of the window looking for a way out of their misery they spy trainee witch, Miss Price among the stars – flying on a broom. And so, the magic begins.
The 1971 film, starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson, was one of a handful of films, like Mary Poppins, that mixed live action with animation. It also came with a terrific sing-a-long score from the Sherman Brothers, who also brought us classics like The Jungle Book and The Aristocats, as well as the more recent ‘It’s a Small World (After All)’.
The stage version gives us all the well-known tunes such as ‘A Step in the Right Direction’ and ‘The Beautiful Briny’ as well as some new numbers, making the running time a little longer than the film at 2hrs 35. The animated characters are brought to life with spectacular puppetry, which quickly draw us in to this fantastical world of talking animals and flying beds.
It is all delivered by a stellar cast and crew led by Dianne Pilkington as Eglantine Price, whose clarity of diction is a wonder. Pilkington brings true star quality that reaches the child in all of us. Her resilient Eglantine is a Mary Poppins for the misfits and the weary, her voice is dreamy and her performance bewitching. I feel 10-years-old again.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks has cast its spell. We leave singing all the way home without a care, as if bobbing along on the beautiful briny sea.★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks is at The Lowry from 15-19 March 2022.