American songwriting duo the Sherman Brothers wrote the film scores for many timeless classics, including Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Jungle Book.
Their songs from the 1971 Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson, may not have become as well known as those from those earlier scores but they have been injected with new life since this stage musical was premiered in 2021 and toured the UK for the past year.
With additional songs from Neil Bartram and a script from Brian Hill (the team behind Broadway smash The Story of My Life) and set designs and illusions from Jamie Harrison, who created the magic in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, this vibrant musical has it all.
Set in 1940, it’s the story of three children evacuated from London to Dorset during the second world war. They are put into the care of prim and proper Miss Eglantine Price, who also happens to be a trainee witch with a flying broomstick.
Miss Price also has grand plans to put a spell on the Nazis landing on the nearby coast until she discovers her witchcraft school is closing before she has completed the course.
She casts a spell on a brass bedknob which transforms the children’s bed into a magical flying contraption so they can travel back to London to find Professor Emelius Browne, a cockney showman who Miss Price is convinced has the illusive final spell, Substitutiary Locomotion, and who ends up as a father-like figure to the children on their magical adventure.
Although there is a backstory set against the war, this is an upbeat musical about family bonds and children with vivid imaginations.
Dianne Pilkington is an elegant but strong-willed Miss Price and she has a wonderful voice. Stage musical veteran Charles Brunton is a likeable Mr Browne and his chipper cockneyisms often recall Ron Moody in Oliver, especially on Emelius The Great.
The child actors also impress, particularly Conor O’Hara as Charlie Rawlins. A brilliant singer and dancer reminiscent of a young Tommy Steele, O’Hara only graduated from drama school in 2020 so this is his first big role – we’ll certainly be seeing a lot more from him in the coming years.
The show is jam-packed with stand-out songs including Nobody’s Problems, The Beautiful Briny, Portobello Road and Negotiality, but it’s the illusions and magic that has the audience genuinely gasping and wide-eyed.
From actors suddenly being turned into rabbits and inanimate objects like swords and shoes dancing around to the flying bed and broomstick – and, yes, they really do fly – this is a show that delivers everything you can possibly want from a Disney musical.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks is at Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, January 29. For tickets, go here.