SANDY — A few years ago I watched a stage production of Richard M. Sherman‘s and Robert B. Sherman‘s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams, for the first time. I had never seen the film production, and I was delighted with the production. Since then, I’ve watched the film many times and waited eagerly for another company to stage Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Hale Centre Theatre has fulfilled my hopes and is currently putting on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang directed by Dave Tinney.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the story of a poor but creative inventor and his two motherless children and their grandfather. The children fall in love in an old broken down race car in the yard of the junk dealer’s where their continuously tinkering father scavenges parts for his inventions. When the children learn that the old car is to be sold and melted down, they beg their father to buy it. After an adventurous night at the fun fair, he is able to earn enough money to buy the car. He cloisters himself in a workshop and transforms the car into a beautiful and unique new family car. However, Vulgarian spies sent by the Baron and Baroness of Vulgaria are out to steal the famous race car for the Baron’s birthday present. As the spies pursue the car over land, sea, and air, incredible adventurous take place along with a little romance for the inventor father.
The best part of this production for me was the warm and loving relationship between Caractacus Potts (played by Alex King) and his two children, Jeremy (Brigham Kerr) and Jemima (Tessa Jensen). As Caractacus played and imagined with his children in the broken down old car, it felt like King, Kerr, and Jensen truly did enjoy their time together. There were moments where King as Caractacus genuinely made Kerr as Jeremy and Jensen as Jemima smile that were infectious. I especially enjoyed the scene were Caractacus was putting his children to bed for the night. Jeremy’s head kept popping up next, until Caractacus playfully pushed it back onto the pillow. It was a moment, that as a parent, I could relate to.
This production is truly heaped with comedy between the spies and the Vulgarian leaders. Boris (played by Amelia Rose Moore) and Goran (played by Dustin Bolt) were a delightful bumbling pair who were ever so serious while being completely ridiculous. Bolt’s opening high note was so beautiful that I wished I could have heard more from him. Goran also did well at pleasing the Baron (played by Benjamin Henderson) and complimenting him on his fashion sense and similar. Henderson was perfect in his portrayal of the toy-loving Baron. Henderson was complimented perfecting by Kelly Coombs as the Baroness.
This production was a technical theatre masterpiece. The light design by Jaron Hermansen was key in helping us feel included and immersed in the action on stage. A particularly magical moment occurred during, “Hushabye Mountain,” when the rotating projection lamp seemed to suddenly send its twirling dotted light swelling with the music and up into the audience. That moment made my young daughter gasp in awe. I also enjoyed the use of multiple disco balls of various sizes during the samba number, amplifying the lighting effect but also keeping a visually pleasing use of the area above the stage.
The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car was a beautiful piece, and the mechanics involved in helping her appear to float and fly will dazzle young audience members. There were many questions and conversations on the way home as my daughter dissected the wonders of well done technical theatre. The set design by Kacey Udy and properties design by Michelle Jensen worked seamlessly together to create a magical world of mechanics and full of bright colors. I especially appreciated the sweets factory with its pipes and bright shiny pink bobbles and wrappers. It had a crisp clean look that was warm and inviting while being still maintaining its industrial look. The costume designs of Joy Zhu added so much color and life to the production. The Baron and Baroness were particularly dazzling and eye catching. I did find the toy disguise costume choice for Caractacus during the doll on a music box scene to be a little confusing. I think he was supposed to be a steampunk-styled robot, but as long as the Baron loved his new toy I suppose it was all well.
There were times during this production where the music was overpowering, running over the singers and smashing my eardrums. My young daughter plugged her ears from the intense volume of the song just before intermission and then again during the finale number. There were also moments during the seaside scene where the lyrics of song were lost to the volume of the music. If I hadn’t know that there was a romance developing between Caractacus and Truly (Tearia Burge) I would have been slightly lost due to a lack of understanding the lyrics. I hope that future productions will have the music toned down slightly so audience members can better hear the lovely voice of Burge.
Jordan Mazzocato was a standout performer. He played the roles of Junkman, Sid the turkey farmer, and the Childcatcher. I loved that each of his characters were so different from each other. He was despicable as the junkman, quite funny as Sid, and creepy as the childcatcher. My favorite character was Sid the turkey farmer. I was genuinely laughing as Sid first ended up in the middle of the “Ol’ Bamboo” performers and he did his own little dancing. That moment took him from a rash pursuer of Caractacus to an endearing man with a sense of fun. I love when I can be delighted by an unexpected character.
Overall, there is so much I could write about this production. It was such a fun night out with my six year old. It is a great production for all audiences, full of strong talent, a gifted production team, and so many wonderful tech aspects. I highly recommend this production, with my only caution being that the songs will be stuck in your head for days and that your foot will likely start tapping of its own accord while you watch.