Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
"Every bursted bubble has a glory
Each abysmal failure makes a point
Every glowing path that goes astray
Shows you how to find a better way"
- Adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams
- Music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
- Directed by Adrian Noble
- Musical staging and choreography by Gillian Lynne
- Orchestrations and dance arrangements by Chris Walker
- Produced for record by Chris Walker
- Opened 4/16/02 at the London Palladium. Still playing.
Baroness Bomburst Anton Rodgers Grandpa Potts
- David Ross
Ray C. Davis
- Peter Bishop
- Ray C. Davis
- Nicholas Johnson
- Bret Jones
This show is a musical adaptation of the 1960s movie musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. You probably know the plot, but if you don't:
In early 20th-century England, two motherless children fixate on a ruined racecar in a junkyard. They persuade their amiable inventor father, Caractacus Potts, to raise the money for it; he does so after several misadventures. Also during those misadventures, he meets Truly Scrumptious, beautiful single daughter of a wealthy candy maker. Potts spruces up the car in his workshop; the funny noises it makes cause the kids to dub it "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Meanwhile, nasty spies from Vulgaria prowl around, wanting to find out what had made the race car so good in its heyday. Their boss, Baron Bombast, wants to put the snatch on the car. After Chitty displays some amazing abilities, he decides to put the snatch on Potts instead. Unfortunately for him, he grabs Grandpa Potts by mistake and makes off in his airship. In pursuit, the idiot Caractacus drives Chitty over a cliff, but the car sprouts wings and follows the Baron and his captive back to Vulgaria.
The Baron dumps Grandpa in with some motheaten inventors and demands that they create a flying car for him. Meanwhile, the folks in the car land to discover that Vulgaria does not allow children. They're hustled to safety by the Toymaker, but the idiot kids (must be genetic) don't stay in hiding and get captured by the Childcatcher, who roams the streets looking for leftovers. Truly witnesses this and goes to fetch C. Potts and the Toymaker, who are currently scheming with the exiled children to invade the castle.
Meanwhile, it's the Baron's birthday, and he and his Baroness engage in some pre-birthday behavior [not sure what, I know what went on in the movie, but the musical booklet is vague]. Potts and Truly infiltrate disguised as giant dolls presented by the Toymaker. Mayhem soon results as the exiled kids attack, and with the aid of Chitty, Bomburst and Co. are deposed.
- Opening (Commentator & Company)
- You Two (Carac, Jeremy, & Jemima)
- Them Three (Grandpa)
- Toot Sweets (Carac, Truly, Lord Scrumptious, & Ensemble)
- Think Vulgar! (Boris & Goran)
- Hushabye Mountain (Carac)
- Come to the Funfair (Company)
- Me Ol' Bamboo (Carac & Ensemble)
- Posh (Grandpa, J&J)
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Carac, Truly, J&J)
- Truly Scrumptious (J&J, Truly)
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang--nautical reprise (Carac, Truly, J&J)
- Chitty Takes Flight (Company)
- Vulgarian National Anthem (Company)
- The Roses of Success (Grandpa, Inventors)
- Kiddy-Widdy-Winkies (Childcatcher)
- Teamwork (Carac, Toymaker, Truly, Children)
- Chu-Chi Face (Baron & Baroness)
- The Bombie Samba (Baronnes, Baron, Ensemble)
- Doll on a Music Box/Truly Scrumptious (Truly, Carac)
- You Two/Chitty Prayer (J&J)
- Chitty Flies Home (Company)
Chitty was one of my very favorite movies as a child. I saw it at least four times and owned the soundtrack. When they released it on CD for the first time and I got it, I was pleased to discover I could still sing my way through most of the songs, even after not having heard it for many years.
Ive always been slightly reviled by my father for liking this musical, and much contemporary opinion would tend to bear him out. The movie appeared in the appendix of one of those bad movie books as a "high-flying disaster" of a money loser. It was often compared to the slightly earlier Mary Poppins for good reason: it had the same male star (except sans the dreadful fake Cockney accent), same composers, and same record producer, and it had much the same feel, being stuffed to the gills with respectable British stage and screen actors. But whereas Poppins was an instant and immediate classic, Chitty came off as a failure. Part of the problem was some of the musicnot all of it, mind you. Poppins had what is easily the Shermans best set of songs in any medium, but while they wrote quite a few decent numbers in Chitty, they also had some real clinkers.
I could go on for a while on this topic, so Ill just say that as far as Im concerned, Chitty has held up fairly well, all things considered. Nowadays it has more "classic" status, possibly because its weaknesses are minor compared to much of the dreck passing for kids movies these days.
I used to daydream about adapting it for the stage, well before I heard someone was actually doing it. In my head I designed the entire set for the original "Posh" number, and I still think it would work. (Never did work out the problem of the car, though.) And I always felt that a live "Me Old Bam-Boo" would be spectacular. So when I did hear that it was being adapted, I was slightly jealous but generally excitedand skeptical, since it was being adapted for the London stage, and I am not convinced that Brits, for all their superiority in rock music, television, and literature, know what theyre doing with musical theatre. Into the Woods and Side by Side by Sondheim aside, I havent found a lot of London shows that have impressed me. (I have a London version of West Side Story thats godawful, but thats another review.)
Chitty's due to come to Broadway in 2005. Be still my heart. So far, they haven't released the CD in this country. However, I was at Tower Records in Las Vegas not too long ago, and there was the import disc. I snatched it up. I played it.
I was underwhelmed.
First, the good points. Having the original Chitty car race the Vulgarian car at the beginning of the show was a good idea, as it sets up Baron Bombasts interest in the car laterthe two Vulgarian spies now have a reason for hanging around in the early part of the show (they want to know what made the original race car so good). Excising "Lovely Lonely Man," one of the true clinkers of the movie, was a great idea, as was removing the reprise of "Hushabye Mountain," another clinker (I know people dont agree with me here). I always found it odd that Caractacus made enough money to buy the race car simply because he danced well with the "Me Ol Bamboo" guys; in this version, he sells his haircutting machine to a turkey farmer, which makes more sense. Removing the "it was all a story" nonsense at the end was also a good idea; why dilute the fantasy? The kids sing much better than their movie counterparts. The character of Caractacus is played for the first time by a Brit; Dick Van Dykes American accent in the movie was never explained and was quite out of place (though again, it was superior to his stupid "mockney" accent in Poppins). The "nautical reprise" of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" is speeded up to mirror the speed of the car as it chugs along the water.
The entire production has an unpleasantly slick feel to it. These people sound like professional singers doing an album of Chitty songs, not characters singing songs; theres very little acting going on here. And except for the kids, none of the actors can hold a candle to the originals, though I understand Brian Blessed and Nichola McAuliffe were great on stage. Ball has zero charismazeroand his bombastic performance on "Hushabye Mountain" is ridiculous. This is supposed to be a guy singing to his kids, not belting to an audience. You can almost see his tonsils throbbing. Anton Rogers plays Grandpa as a tired old dude, not the feisty old dude of Lionel Jeffries. Feh. The kids sing well but are utter ciphers as musical actors. (To be fair, so were the original kids.) Emma Williams is OK, if kinda over-chirpy; its her West End debut, so she gets some points for trying.
None of the new songs is up to the standards of the original score, and "Think Vulgar" is REALLY awful. Worse, the song arrangements have been massacred. "Toot Sweet" is too fast; "Me Ol Bamboo" is too slow. Etc. I question the wisdom of using the Chitty theme song melody as the melody for the opening number ("Never was a car like this before")it doesnt work as a foreshadowing, and it dilutes the best song in the show. "The Roses of Success," which is a fine humanistic anthem from which people still quote, has been turned into a doofy comedy number with banjos and jaunty musical stingers. "Posh" has been turned into a song Grandpa sings to and with the kids; its no longer a showpiece, and no longer funny. Flutes should be prominent in "Toot Sweet," but theyre barely audible over the rest of the orchestra.
If anything serves to prove that the producers of this turkey dont know much about musical theatre, its this: Truly Scrumptious has no solo! I cant think of any other musical where the leading lady didnt have a solo, except for musicals where nearly all the characters were men, like 1776 and The Rothschilds. Especially when the leading lady is supposed to have a romantic interest in the leading man! But the budding romance between Caractacus and Truly has been all but removed from the show, and Emma Williams is too young for Michael Ball anyway. "Doll on a Music Box/Truly Scrumptious" is supposed to be something of a love song on Caractacuss part, but here its just another song. (Now, in the original book, which I read once a zillion years ago, the adults were already the parents of the kids, so there was no love story at all. But this aint what they adapted back to, so )
And oh my God, Chitty is elevated almost to godhood; besides having "Chitty Prayer" to finish up the musical, the music swells into tooth-rotting nobility, with a full choir singing the theme song, at the end of the first act when Chitty flies. (Also at the end of the second act.) Its truly embarrassing; even Griseldas ascension in Cats isnt this worshipful. But this is sort of foreshadowed, because every time the family needs Chitty to save them, they all yell, "SAVE US CHITTY, PLEASE! PLEEEEEEEASE!" And Chitty obliges, of course. Gah.
Some peculiar choices were made in the production of this recording. For example, Grandpa announces to Caractacus that hes finally invented something that works, and bang, with no pause or anything, Caractacus is pitching the Toot Sweets to Mr. Scrumptious. And immediately upon the candy magnates initial rejection of the candies and Trulys "Daddy, please!," Caractacus proclaims, "He likes it!" Eh? There are more miracles in this musical than in Les Mis.
The short booklet has several full-color crops (emphasizing the car and the elaborate costumes) decorating the pages as well as several actual pictures and five color pix of the principal actors out of costume. The plot summary is long but oddly inadequate for all that. The center of the booklet has seven positive quotes from reviews, as if we needed convincing that this is a good musical, and the back of the booklet has ads for the DVD and video of "The Making of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Tacky, tacky. (And why is there a dog sitting in front of the ads? Is that a video company thing or what?) Rounding out the booklet are a cast list, the full orchestra list, and technical details.
Unless you have a Michael Ball fetish, get the movie soundtrack instead of this thing. I hope if it ever comes to these shores it tanks as badly as Dance of the Vampires. I wasn't surprised to learn that the guys who produced this dopey show were also responsible for the British version of The Secret Garden, which is one of the most overproduced musical CDs in my collection and possibly the biggest waste of one of the best casts ever. Oh, please, Chitty, deliver us from overblown, spectacle-heavy, poorly acted British musicals! PLEEEEEAASE!
Ah! Im not alonecheck out this guy, who actually saw the show: http://www.theatreguidelondon.co.uk/reviews/musicals2002.htm
Another person who saw the show and was underwhelmed: http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/cityguide_travel/city_guide/chitty_chitty_bang_bang_the_musical/_review/366137/
All non-lyric material copyright 2004, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
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