Following The Woman in White and The Producers, the third of the autumn’s big-three musicals, the hotly anticipated stage adaptation of Mary Poppins, at last receives its London premiere (See News, 20 Oct 2003). It opens at the West End’s Prince Edward theatre tonight (Wednesday 15 December 2004, following previews from 6 December), 40 years after the premiere of the film.

While the £8 million production has already had a six-week run, from 15 September to 6 November 2004, at the Bristol Hippodrome (See News, 11 Nov 2003), tonight will be the first time that the national media will be invited to see it. Despite the shortage of official reviews to date, a combination of media preview features, word-of-mouth raves from Bristol and the strength of title itself has created an advance buzz for Mary Poppins that’s almost unprecedented in recent years. At the Prince Edward box office, demand for tickets is already high throughout the initial booking period to 24 September 2005.

More than ten years in the planning, the stage version of Mary Poppins is co-produced by Cameron Mackintosh and Thomas Schumacher for Disney Theatrical Productions and is based on the stories of PL (Pamela) Travers and the 1964 Walt Disney film, which starred Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews as London chimneysweep Bert and the eponymous magical nanny of the title who comes to the aid of the semi-dysfunctional Banks family in Edwardian London.

Those starring roles are now taken by relative unknowns Gavin Lee (Peggy Sue Got Married, Contact) and Laura Michelle Kelly (My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof). They’re joined in the 50-strong cast by David Haig (as Mr Banks), Linzi Hateley (Mrs Banks), Rosemary Ashe (Miss Andrew), Jenny Galloway (Miss Brill), Julia Sutton (as Bird Woman), Kevin Williams (Park Keeper), Gerard Carey (Robertson Ay) and five sets of children playing Michael and Jane Banks.

The creative team is led by former NT artistic director Richard Eyre, with co-direction and choreography by Matthew Bourne and additional choreography by Stephen Mear. The production is designed by Bob Crowley, with lighting by Howard Harrison, sound by Andrew Bruce and Nick Lidster, and orchestrations by William David Brohn.

Mary Poppins features many of the songs from the Sherman brothers' Oscar-winning film score - which included "Chim Chim Cher-ee", "A Spoonful of Sugar" and "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" - as well as new songs and additional music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (Honk!, Peter Pan). The book for the stage production has been written, in collaboration with Mackintosh, by Julian Fellowes (who won an Oscar for his Gosford Park screenplay).

Born Helen Lyndon Goff in Queensland Australia in 1899, Pamela Travers worked as an actress, journalist and poet before creating Poppins. The series of books were published between 1934 and 1981, have sold millions of copies worldwide and been translated into 24 languages. Travers died in 1996 at the age of 96.

Cameron Mackintosh met Travers more than a decade ago, when they talked about her wish for her greatest creation to become a stage musical. Mackintosh has previously said: "I was very touched that she entrusted me with the stage rights to her books. We very much hope that we will achieve Pamela's dream and create an equally enjoyable, but different, musical Mary Poppins to delight a modern audience."

- by Terri Paddock