A few dud performances aside, the stage reimagining of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs like a charm, says David Mullane.
Based on James Bond author Ian Fleming’s children’s novel, with a screenplay by Roald Dahl, songs by the legendary Sherman Brothers, and starring Dick Van Dyke, the odds were most certainly stacked in favour for the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The current stage musical version is a faithful adaptation, preserving the film’s madcap adventures, colourful characters and magical motorcar.
Designer Simon Higlett sets all the show’s action within the broad, white frame of the Potts family’s windmill and, using clever prop adjustments, transports us to sweet factories, fun fairs, the seaside, the evil country of Vulgaria and back again. His work is complemented by Simon Wainwright’s video design work, which has a painterly style – video projections sweep and swoosh across the stage as if it is a storybook and the pages are being illustrated while we watch. Often when a musical relies on video work, it suggests low budgets or a lack of imagination, but not so with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The most important element of the production is, of course, the titular car and it runs like a charm, be it on the road, in the sea or even in the sky.
The all-star cast is a mixed bag. Jason Manford is excellent in the lead role of Caractacus Potts. The stand-up comedian is fast becoming a confident and convincing musical theatre star, last seen on the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre stage in the fantastic production of The Producers. Spandau Ballet and Eastenders’ Martin Kemp is fun and frightening as the Childcatcher, but Phill Jupitus and Michelle Collins slump in their roles as the Baron and Baroness Bomburt of Vulgaria, making it to the end of Act II without seeming to break a sweat. They’re both example of stunt casting gone wrong.
Robert B and Richard M Sherman (Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Bedknobs and Broomsticks) added a couple of new songs and expansions for the stage show, and although not filler-free, we get a veritable parade of hits, enough to give frequent goosebumps, such as ‘Toot Sweets’, ‘Hushabye Mountain’, ‘Truly Scrumptious’, ‘Doll on a Music Box’ and the romping ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’.
Like the titular car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang this vintage musical is a little rusty with some minor troubles to give a mechanic pause, yet it’s still packed full of wonderful features and boasts a powerful motor under its bonnet.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until March 13. Click here for tickets
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