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A CurtainUp London Review
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Rides to the Hilton Theatre's Stage
by Elyse Sommer

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Some cast members bang-banging along.
Not to worry whether the eye-popping Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car that made the Guinness Book of record as the most expensive stage prop ever is as spectacular at Broadway's newly named Hilton than London's Palladium. It remains the star of the extravagant but bland stage version of the 1968 movie musical which was an adaptation of thriller novelist Ian Fleming's only children's book and the Sherman brothers attempt to repeat the success of Mary Poppins. The car takes flight at the end of the first act and again when the Potts' family's adventures end happily and all the bad guys are ousted -- though, not before they steal what can be stolen from this big on scenery and short on art and imagination show.

Grandpa Potts also takes flight via a miniaturized little house, as does the villainous spy catcher. And yes, half a dozen real dogs go racing across the stage several times. In short, everything and everyone that's kept this show running for three years in London is as Lizzie Loveridge described it in her review when it opened there.
Philip Bosco
Philip Bosco & some of the inventors (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The Broadway production employs all but one of the original crafts team (the New York lighting designer is Mark Henderson). The American cast Adrian Noble has assembled is very much Grade A+ and all seem to be having a grand time, even though their characters are unworthy of their talents.

Whether the show's frequent resemblance to the pantomines long popular with British kids will prove enthralling enough to American youngsters for a lengthy run remains to be seen. The kids on real school holiday rather than the school-hating Jeremy and Jemima's "eastmas" (halfway between Easter and Christmas) who filled the theater at the matinee I attended seemed to be most animated when things were flying. Besides the end of act Chitty flights, Grandpa Potts is miniaturized little outhouse flies up and away behind the loges when he's kidnapped and the captured Spycatcher soars even higher.

Kevin Kahoon
Kevin Cahoon as the Childcatcher (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Raoul Esparza, like several other cast members, continues to amaze with his theatrical genre-crossing abilities (he last appeared in the Public Theatre revival of Larry Kramer's drama, The Normal Heart). But even his charisma can't give a truly heroic edge to the bland Caractacus Potts. While Anthony Ward's sets and costumes are lavishly drop dead, the visual satire of the Hitler colors for the Vulgarians gets lost in the superficiality of the characters. The second act "The Bombie Samba" detour into what looks like a remake of an old Xavier Cugat/Carmen Miranda movie is such a welcome pickup for the adults in the audience that you tend not to quibble about it's feeling more like an interruption than an integral part of the show.

Esparza's romantic interest, Erin Dilly, is a scrumptious Truly who's a cross between Sally Ann Howes and Kristin Chenoweth. Philip Bosco rewards us for letting him off jury duty (in the much extended Twelve Angry Men by proving himself capable of delivering a tune even though he's not much of a singer and what he's given to sing is mediocre.
Jan Maxwell & Marc Kudisch
Jan Maxwell & Marc Kudisch as Baron and Baroness Bomburst (Photo: Joan Marcus)
The real scene stealers, besides the car, are Kudish and Maxwell as the campy Baron and Baroness. Kevin Calhoon is also fine as the Nazi-like Childcatcher. Robert Sella and Chip Zien as spies Boris and Goran, are stuck with the most pantomine-like but least funny Vulgarians roles.

Since, like Lizzie Loveridge, I found the songs pretty but easy to forget, a memory jogging song list below, followed by the London review which includes more plot and production details.

While this is very much a family show don't expect that $100 ticket (plus souveniers and candy) to stir your youngsters' imaginations and give them a taste for the magic of theater rather than the magic of theatrical technology.

Directed by Adrian Noble
Musical Staging by Gillian Lynne
Cast: Raúl Esparza (Caractacus Potts), Erin Dilly (Truly Scrumptious), Philip Bosco{Grandpa Potts}, Marc Kudisch (Baron Bomburst), Jan Maxwell (Baroness Bomburst), Chip Zien (Goran), Robert Sella (Boris), Kevin Cahoon (Childcatcher), Frank Raiter (Toymaker), Henry Hodges (Jeremy Potts), Ellen Marlow (Jemima Potts), JB Adams (Chicken Farmer/Inventor), Dirk Lumbard (Phillips/Coggins/Inventor), Ken Kantor (Lord Scrumptious), Kurt Von Schmittou (Sid/Inventor), Robyn Hurder (Violet), Michael Herwitz (Toby), Robert Creighton, Rick FaugnoWilliam Ryall (Inventors).
Sets and Costumes: Anthony Ward
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Sound Design: Andrew Bruce
Musical Director: Kristen Blodgette
The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Orchestra-- Associate Conductor/Keyboard II: Stan Tucker; Keyboard I: Milton Granger; Violins: Victor Costanzi (Concert Master), Suzy Perelman; Violin/Viola: Gary Kosloski; Cello: Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf; Bass/Tuba: Patrick Glynn; Reeds: Robert DeBellis, Steven Kenyon, Salvatore Spicola; Trumpets: Stu Satalof, Joe Burgstaller; French Horn: Jeff Nelsen; Trombones: Marc Donatelie, Charles Gordon; Guitar/ Banjo/Mandolin: Justin Quinn; Percussion: Dave Roth; Drum Set: Edward Fast
Music Coordinator: Sam Lutfiyya Running Time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, with intermission
Hilton Theatre, 213 West 42nd Street, (212) 307-4100
From 3/27/05 opening 4/28/05. Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 7 PM, Friday and Saturday nights at 8 PM with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 PM and Sundays at 3 PM.
Tickets $20 to $100.
Last performance 12/ 31/05 after d 34 previews and 285 regular performances.
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture . Orchestra
  • Prologue . Company
  • You Two . Caractacus, Jeremy and Jemima
  • Them Three . Grandpa Potts
  • Toot Sweets . Caractacus, Truly Scrumptious, Lord Scrumptxous and Ensemble
  • Act English . Boris and Goran
  • Hushabye Mountain . Caractacus
  • Come to the Fun Fair . Company
  • Me O1' Bamboo . Caractacus and Ensemble
  • Posh , Grandpa Potts, Jeremy & Jemima
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang . Caractacus, Truly, Jeremy and Jemima
  • Truly Scrumptious . Jeremy, Jemima and Truly
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Nautical Reprise) . Caractacus, Truly, Jeremy and Jemima
  • Chitty Takes Flight . Company
Act Two
  • Entre' acte . Orchestra
  • Vulgarian National Anthem . Company
  • The Roses of Success . Grandpa Potts and Inventors
  • Kiddy-Widdy-Winkies . Childcatcher
  • Teamwork . Caractacus, Toymaker, Truly and Juvenile Ensemble
  • Chu-Chi Face . Baron and Baroness
  • The Bombie Samba . Baroness, Baron and Ensemble
  • Doll on a Music Box/Truly Scrumptious (Reprise) . Truly and Caractacus
  • Us Two/Chitty Prayer . Jeremy and Jemima
  • Teamwork (Reprise) . Toymaker and Company
  • Chitry Flies Home (Finale) . Company

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang London Review
by Lizzie Loveridge

You're sleek as a thoroughbred
Your seats are a feather bed
You'll turn everybody's head today
We'll glide on our motor trip
With pride in our owner ship
The envy of all we survey.
O Chitty You Chitty
Pretty Chitty Bang Bang
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
We love you.
-- Lyrics to the song "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"

 Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Scrumptious Sweet Factory
(Photo: Alistair Muir)
Adrian Noble, beleaguered outgoing director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, has been much criticised for taking a sabbatical to direct the stage production of the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, itself a version of Ian Fleming's novel, for the London Palladium. However RSC issues apart, the producers could not have done better than to employ Noble whose productions are characterised by startling and imaginative design. The Noble hallmarks are there in the opening scenes with the umbrellas, the colourful balloons that he introduced into Shakespearean plays fitting easily into this children's musical. My inauspicious first visit was the night Chitty failed to fly on the Second Night and we were all sent home disappointed after waiting around for an hour. I am assured that the car has worked every night since so it must be more reliable than some of Caractacus Potts' bizarre inventions.

The widower and inventor of oddball machines Caractacus Potts (Michael Ball) lives in his windmill workshop with his twin children Jessica and Jeremy and his father Grandpa Potts (Anton Rodgers). He meets the children's schoolteacher, the delectable Truly Scrumptious (Emma Williams) who is the daughter of the industrialist and Candy King Lord Scrumptious (David Henry). Meanwhile Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria (Brian Blessed) and the childhating Baroness (Nichola McAuliffe) are trying to win a Grand Prix race by capturing the famous racing car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and to further their ambition, kidnapping inventors the world over. Caractacus Potts renovates the wreck of the car which can travel on water and has magical powers. Grandpa Potts is kidnapped, taken to Vulgaria and when Truly and the other Potts go to his rescue, they meet both the sinister Child Catcher (Richard O'Brien) and the friendly Toymaker (Edward Petherbridge). Along the way there are visits to a fairground and never an opportunity missed for some fun choreography. Oh . . . and of course Caractacus and Truly fall for each other

The music and the lyrics are tried and child tested, easy and pleasant rather than brilliant but the stars of this production are Anthony Ward's fabulous sets and of course the magical flying car. The car flies in the first act. In the last act it comes out over the orchestra pit and the first four rows of the stalls. Caractacus Potts' windmill has sails that turn and a variety of his impractical inventions are on display as working models. Other visual delights are the candy striped workers and the machinery in the Scrumptious Sweet Factory rivalling Willie Wonka, the half timbered Saxon houses of Vulgaria, the Fairground, the South American theme of the Baron's birthday bash, the detailed Toymaker's House and the kidnapped, high kicking Einsteins.

I liked Gillian Lynne's choreography of the ensemble numbers -- in the factory "Toot Sweets", the Morris Dancers at the Fairground curiously influenced by China in "Me Ol' Bamboo", the soft shoe shuffle of the inventors in "The Roses of Success". The music is not as memorable as one might expect from a West End musical but there is a mixture of musical styles, pleasant ballads, the lullaby "Hushabye Mountain" and more upbeat numbers, the jazzy "Toot Sweets" and the Samba for the Vulgarians. Through all the whole cast genuinely look as if they are enjoying themselves.

Michael Ball is as, handsome and charming as he is tuneful. His co-star Emma Williams as Truly is all pretty goodness. Brian Blessed gives us his usual bluster as the baron and McAuliffe is well cast as the child phobic villainess. Richard O'Brien, (remember Rif Raf in Rocky Horror? ) with his black clockwork horse carriage and top hat is sinister without striking terror. The imprisoned, bedraggled, children look Dickensian, though this doesn't interfere with their hearty singing.

Children as young as four sat there for two and a half hours with a break for ice cream though on the way into the theatre I had heard several threatened with the Child Catcher! Noble delivers a well staged Chitty Chitty Bang Bang even stretching to the entrance of half a dozen real dogs though quite why they came I've forgotten in much the same way as I've forgotten most of the tunes apart from the oft repeated "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." What I shall remember are those, colourful sets and costumes and, of course, the car.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Written by Ian Fleming
Directed by Adrian Noble
Music and Lyrics by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman
Adapted by Jeremy Sams

Design: Anthony Ward
Musical Staging and Choreography: Gillian Lynne
Starring: Michael Ball
With: Ray C Davis, George Gilles, Harry Smith, Luke Newberry, Carrie Fletcher, Lauren Morgan, Kimberley Fletcher, Graham Hoadly, Emma Williams, David Ross, Emil Wolk, Anton Rodgers, David Henry, Matthew Rixon, Liza Pulman, Steve Elias, Brian Blessed, Nichola McAuliffe, Richard O'Brien, Peter Bishop, Nicholas Johnson, Bret Jones, Edward Petherbridge, Helen Baker, Julie Barnes, Darren Carnall, Stuart Chaffer, Ben Clare, Lisa Joanne Cook, Phyllida Crowley-Smith, Darren J Fawthrop, Nia Fisher, Ben Garner, Jocelyn Hawkyard, Emma Hennigan, Emma Kerslake, Robert Kramer, David Lee, Rory Locke, Gary milner, Tommi Sliiden, Scarlett Strallen, Lyndsey Wise
Lighting Design: Mark Henderson
Sound Design: Andrew Bruce
Musical Director: Robert Scott
Running time: Two hours thirty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 890 1108
Booking to 28th September 2002
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th May 2002 performance at the London Palladium, Argyll Street London W1 (Tube Station: Oxford Circus)
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