BWW Review: Hale Centre Theatre's CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG Fires On All Cylinders!
Believe it or not, this critic never read CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, the popular children's story, penned in 1964 by, of all people, the master spy novelist, Ian Fleming!
I never saw the 1968 film, made four years after his passing, starring Dick Van Dyke and written for the screen by, of all people, Roald Dahl, who, like Fleming, had a fancy for villains and nonsense names and words. (Perhaps the affinity of these two storytellers for escapist literature derived from their shared experience during the Second World War ~ Fleming serving Britain in the Naval Intelligence Division and Dahl as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force.)
So, my introduction to the fanciful adventure of a quite versatile car and the coterie of colorful characters that eye it with envy and wonderment is Hale Centre Theatre's production of the musical adaptation by Jeremy Sams, with music and lyrics by The Sherman Brothers (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, It's A Small World After All).
Unencumbered by the temptation to draw comparisons with the incomparable, I must measure this show on its merits. And, meritorious it is!
My appraisal: The show literally and figuratively fires on all cylinders!
Director/choreographer Cambrian James is at it again, at the steering wheel, putting the pedal to the metal and serving up a high-spirited edition of the children's classic ~ featuring a parade of exceptional talents and supported by the always reliable musical direction of Lincoln Wright and Tia Hawkes's amazingly variegated and finely tailored costumes.
Before tossing laurels at the stars of the show, let me offer a bit of context. First, it is reported that Fleming was sidetracked from working on his next James Bond novel after a heart attack. During bedrest, he focused instead on crafting a bedtime story for his son Caspar with an automotive centerpiece that was inspired in part by the aircraft-engined race cars he saw in his youth. So, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a highly versatile vehicle ~ retrieved and restored from the scrap heap and now magically able to navigate on land, sea, or air ~ was conceived as the mode of transport for the central characters of the tale.
It is a charming and altogether silly but optimistic enterprise, this fanciful quest of Caractacus Potts (Rob Stuart) and his children, Jemimah and Jeremy (Ellie Sachs and Bennett Smith), to rescue his mistakenly kidnapped grandfather (Matthew R. Harris) from the clutches of the Vulgarian autocrats, Baron and Baroness Bomburst (Raymond Barcelo and Alaina Beauloye).
Accompanied by Truly Scrumptious (Amanda Valenzuela), the daughter of a candy factory owner who has taken a fancy to Caractacus's inventive ways, the band of travelers navigate a sea of perils to a conclusion that affirms (here stands a solid message for all kids!) the value of teamwork.
Along the way, in what becomes a rescue mission for captives of the villainous Childcatcher (Daniel Lopez), the family encounters the royals' henchmen, Goran and Boris (Allan DeWitt and Andrew Stachurski) and a kindly toymaker (Benjamin Harris).
What will make this production memorable is the distinctive portrayals of these colorful characters.
Rob Stuart downplays eccentric in favor of a caring dad who'll endeavor to treat his kids to a good time but will rise to the occasion to secure the safety of all children. He could not have better and more convincing portrayals of his children than those provided by Ellie Sachs and Bennett Smith.
Amanda Valenzuela is a charming and bright presence, living up to her character's name and emulating the attributes of a well-meaning protectress. In a shining moment of movement, she delivers a masterful and graceful turn as the Doll on a Music Box.
Daniel Lopez is fearsome, clad in black caped apparel and kickass leather boots, as the child-snatcher, engaged by the Baroness to remove children from the realm. Benjamin Harris stands in marked contrast as the outgoing and generous toymaker.
When it comes to wacky, that claim is the domain of two wonderful pairings:
First, Allan DeWitt and Andrew Stachurski make bumbling an art that the Marx Brothers would adore as they scheme and cavort to seize the miracle car.
Next, but not at all least, is the over-the-top portrayal of Baron and Baroness Bomburst. Alaina Beauloye is fabulous, capturing with full aplomb the essence and cunning of the royal who hates and fears children. She shows her Broadway chops with a smart command of movement, gesture, and voice. With Raymond Barcelo in hand as the childish, petulant, and bombastic Baron, the couple delivers a load of laughs.
All told, a gem of a show! I'm not sure that I even need to see the movie after all!
CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG runs through August 17th at Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert, AZ.
Photo credit to Nick Woodward-Shaw
Hale Centre Theatre ~ https://www.haletheatrearizona.com ~ 480-497-1181 ~ 50 West Page Avenue, Gilbert, AZ