Photos – Jeff Busby
Emerging from the same stable of family musicals that gave birth to Mary Poppins, the stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has finally reached our shores.
There are many connections between these two popular musical works. Both had film versions in the 60s, only reaching the stage in the last decade; both feature the song-writing talents of Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman, and both films starred the talented Dick Van Dyke. The pedigree is good, so you know what to expect.
Chitty Chitty actually began as a children's book by James Bond creator Ian Fleming (and was based on a real car), and features the writer's favourites, spies and amazing gadgets. The book was adapted for the screen by Roald Dahl – the version of which was subsequently adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams and Ray Broderick.
Very briefly, the story centres around a widower and eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts (David Hobson) who lives with his war hero father, also called Caractacus, but affectionately known as Grandpa Potts (Peter Carroll) and his young children, Jeremy and Jemima (played with gusto by Beau Woodbridge and Lucille Le Meledo on opening night). The family have their sights set on an old car, with a colourful history, which the children have been playing in. After meeting the lovely daughter of a famous candy maker, sparks fly between him and Truly Scrumptious (Rachael Beck), and plans are made to purchase and restore the old vehicle, which of course is done.
The reputation of the old car reaches Vulgaria where Baron Bomhurst (Alan Brough) and his deliciously nasty wife (Jennifer Vuletic) plan to get their hands on it, and send over two of their spies, Goran and Boris (George Kapiniaris and Todd Goddard) to track it down.
Throw in a toymaker (Philip Gould) and a very creepy Child Catcher (Tyler Coppin), who ensures that Vulgaria is child free, and you have the ingredients for a show that will appeal to most children and families. Most of the scenes are played way over the top with the show often resembling a sophisticated pantomime (lots of cheering the car and hissing the villain here!).
This is not a serious show that will attract too many Sondheim fans, but winningly plays to its target audience – the young and the young at heart.
Director Roger Hodgman brings out some very exagerrated performances which works well, and keeps the pace steady. Along with choreographer Dana Jolley, there is barely a quiet moment in the show.
Music director/Conductor Peter Casey delivers a fine sounding orchestra and maintains the tempo at a great pace.
Anthony Ward's very colourful costumes and scenic design compliment and and make a huge contribution to some of the performances, in particular the Child Catcher and Baroness Bomhurst.
David Hobson, largely known for his operatic career, makes a very likeable Caractacus, and adapts well to the musical theatre stage. Rachael Beck is as lovely as ever, again playing with ease the kind of role that she gets cast as far too often. Peter Carroll also plays Grandpa with a sense of fun.
Alan Brough is a fine Baron and Philip Gould brings some nice moments to his scenes as the Toymaker. But the stand-out performances in this kind of show belongs of course to those playing the baddies.
Tyler Coppin looks and acts like a cross between Richard III and the Wicked Witch of the West, quite scary! George Kapiniaris and Todd Goddard make the most of their scenes and show great comedic skills, especially when dropping the many double entrendes for the adults in the audience to savour.
The great scene-stealer though is the very funny Jennifer Vuletic as the child-hating Baroness. With her superb, colourful costumes, comic timing and terrific vocal ability, hers is a performance that shouts 'Award winning'.
Throw in lots of children, several dogs and of course a car that flies, and you have entertainment that is directed very clearly at a specific demographic. After Mary Poppins, and Chitty Chitty, it will probably only be a matter of time before Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory makes a major stage debut.
Tim Lawson presents
CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG
Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman | Adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams and Ray Broderick | Based on the MGM Motion Picture
Directed by Roger Hodgman
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Exhibition Street, Melbourne
Season: from 30 January 2013
Tickets: $55.90 – $129.90 (transaction and booking fees may apply)
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012