Ben Neutze caught up with Jennifer Vuletic, currently starring as Baroness Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Most nights after the towering and hilarious Jennifer Vuletic delivers a towering and hilarious performance as Baroness Bomburst, children come to the stage door of Sydney’s Capitol Theatre to meet members of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang cast. When Jennifer emerges, de-costumed, de-wigged and de-crowned, it usually takes the young fans a few moments to put the pieces together and work out who is standing in front of them.
“When they realise who I am, and they usually get a hint from my height, they’re terrified!” she says. “They go completely speechless.”
For Jennifer, it’s all part and parcel of playing a villain in a family show and speechless kids just means she’s doing her job right. She’s even experienced moments of unexpected audience interaction. Just last week, when the child-hating Baroness and Baron (Alan Brough) were being banished from the castle, a child’s voice from the audience shouted out “Goodbye! Goodbye!”
And if you want any other indication that she’s on the right track, you only have to look at the glowing reviews she’s received for her performance in the Sydney season. The production has been praised by critics for its sense of fun and cheekiness, but Jennifer believes the key to the show’s success is in the way it lets audiences immerse themselves in a fantastical world.
“It has this brilliant bridging capacity that means that people of my era who loved it when they were kids can go into that fantasy again and take their kids along with them as well,” she says.
In spite of how much she now loves the show, it wasn’t one of her favourites as a child. “I’d obviously seen it, but it just wasn’t really on my radar. Surprisingly, though, once I accepted the role and told people I was playing the Baroness they all said ‘Oh Chitty is my favourite film! The Baroness gets to sing Chu-Chi Face!’”
Jennifer had a different movie musical obsession. “I was really a Mary Poppins kid,” she says. “I became absolutely fixated on the fact that Mary could fly.” It was an obsession that grew until she suffered some fairly serious injuries trying to emulate Mary on a staircase with an umbrella.
But one thing Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang have in common is a star that flies. “Every show like this needs something that both literally and figuratively lifts you off your feet. It’s wonderful to hear people spontaneously burst into applause when Chitty does what she does,” she says.
Much has been said about the car, which is apparently the most expensive prop in the history of British theatre, but Jennifer is certain the whirling, fantasmagorical machine absolutely lives up to the hype. “Everyone knows the car flies, but when it actually happens, it’s the magic of theatre. You can hear kids in the audience shouting ‘the car flies!’”
Just as when she was a child, Jennifer still has the urge to fly and her only regret in this production is that she never gets a ride in the car. What she does get is a wardrobe of opulent and outlandish costumes and the hilarious Alan Brough to bounce off as her husband Baron Bomburst. It’s the wacky, strange relationship between the child-like Baron and commanding Baroness that she believes is central to getting her character right and Brough matches her perfectly.
It’s a relationship that’s unlike anything Jennifer has played before. Immediately prior to Chitty, she was appearing in Malthouse Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Histrionic. In a far cry from her onstage antics in Chitty, she played the completely silent wife of Bille Brown’s tyrannical Bruscon and delivered her entire performance without a line of dialogue.
[pull_left]It’s always good fun to play the baddy[/pull_left]
The versatile performer also has plans to tour her cabaret Gin and Razorblades, which she premiered at Melbourne’s Butterfly Club late last year. In that show, she appears as Ivanka, a depressive, alcoholic Romanian singer. She describes the show as ‘gloomily hilarious’, and given the success of the Melbourne performance, it’s clear to see why she’s keen to take the show on the road.
But she concedes that the ongoing success of Chitty, with extra dates just announced for both Sydney and Melbourne and an Adelaide season slated for mid 2013 may mean the tour is a little way off yet. For now, she’s relishing every moment as the wicked and villainous Baroness Bomburst. According to Jennifer, “It’s always good fun to play the baddy.”
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is playing at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre until 19 January and opens in Melbourne on January 30 at Her Majesty’s Theatre. The show will transfer to Adelaide on April 30, 2013.
For more information, visit www.chittychitty.com.au