Time Out Sydney's review:
Brightly conceived, beautifully performed and packed with hummable Sherman Brothers tunes, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, adapted more from the 1968 film than the Ian Fleming book, doesn’t quite stand up as a show for adults. Having said that, it’s hard to imagine a better production of this particular show, which debuted in London’s West End in 2002 and has been restaged locally by director Roger Hodgman.
Tenor David Hobson stars as Caractacus Potts, a widowed inventor who rescues a decaying vintage car and spruces it up for the amusement of his apple-cheeked son and daughter, Jeremy and Jemima (played on opening night by Ashleigh Ross and Max Walburn). The car is magical. You have to say ‘please’ if you want it to do anything. And yes, it flies – a theatrical illusion that is achieved spectacularly.
An infantile Baron (Spicks and Specks’s Alan Brough) from an Eastern European nation, Vulgaria, wants the car for his birthday, so his dominatrix Baroness (Jennifer Vuletic) activates a pair of bumbling sleeper agents (George Kapiniaris and Todd Goddard) in England to steal it for him. All the baddies are broad Germanic stereotypes, unthreatening figures of fun, with one exception: the Child Catcher. Driving a black cage-carriage drawn by a clockwork horse, this grotesque comes straight from the pre-modern era of parenting in which children’s tales involved liberal doses of terror. Tyler Coppin played this leering creature with such gargoylish glee that the opening night audience offered him boos at his curtain call.
Threats to the family unit are of course the bread and butter of children’s tales such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The Potts clan also includes Grandpa (Peter Carroll, effortlessly sympathetic) and it’s his abduction that drives the second half of the show. The absence of the children’s mother, meanwhile, is rectified by the figure of Truly Scrumptious (Rachel Beck), daughter of a local confectionery baron. (It’s tempting to see a link between her name and the sexually loaded names of Fleming’s Bond girls, but the character is not in the novel.) In the song ‘Truly Scrumptious’, the Potts children humorously reflect on the happy coincidence of her being so lovable. Beck, for her part, lives up to her charactonym, her bell-like soprano cutting through the silliness with some genuine poignancy. A second-act song in which Beck impersonates a music box dancer is especially impressive.
In complaining that the show is kids’ stuff, I mean that it doesn’t conform to a satisfying system of internal logic. A musical for adults will ensure its songs either define character or move the plot along; several in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang are simply about filling in time in between the actual story. A fairground dance with bamboo sticks and a Brazilian ballroom dance number are fun to watch but are basically padding.
Dramatically, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is on a par with a Christmas pantomime. But hey – Christmas is coming, and there’s enough wonderment in the stagecraft that even today’s over-stimulated littlies will be impressed. It’s a child-catcher of the nicest kind.
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