The Phantom of the Opera had a falling chandelier, Miss Saigon had a soaring helicopter and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has a flying car.
So much is the rumoured $1.2 million car the star of the show, it gets the final bow. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of other star power onstage with a cast of some of Australia’s most talented and zaniest performers. It’s great to see these performers obviously having loads of fun in what is essentially quite a silly show.
With an impossibly catchy score by the Sherman Brothers that has the audience clapping along right from the overture, Chitty has the potential to seem like the poorer, younger brother of Mary Poppins. It lacks the subtlety and fine-tuning that made Poppins a success, which was pretty clear from opening night’s fair share of technical glitches. Fortunately, this production embraces the silliness, is painted with deliberately broad strokes and is all the better for it.
Despite the fact that it runs a little longer than it needs to, the musical really is much more fun and substantially funnier than the film. It’s packed full of one-liners and physical comedy delivered to hilarious effect by a magnificent cast.
David Hobson and Rachael Beck are the heart of the show as Caractacus Potts and Truly Scrumptious. They both sing as beautifully as you’d expect and along with musical director Peter Casey, elevate the score to something better than the sum of its parts. Hobson makes up for what he lacks in the acting department with energy, charisma and surprisingly adequate dancing and Beck is her usual lovely self, very much the classically beautiful leading lady.
Their work with Jeremy and Jemima (played by Max Walburn and Ashleigh Ross on opening night) is gorgeous. Walburn, Ross and Beck make Truly Scrumptious a surprisingly touching moment.
George Kapiniaris and Todd Goddard win the most laughs as the bumbling Vulgarian spies Goran and Boris. They work the audience like a good old-fashioned vaudevillian comedy duo, throwing in some ever-so-slightly blue jokes. Alan Brough and Jennifer Vuletic are equally hilarious as Baron and Baroness Bomburst. Vuletic, in particular is wonderfully imposing in a wardrobe of spectacularly outlandish costumes and a thicker-than-treacle accent.
Peter Carroll simply doesn’t put a foot wrong as Grandpa Potts proving with limited stage time why he’s one of Australia’s most respected actors. Tyler Coppin is brilliantly and unnervingly creepy as the Child Catcher getting his fair share of boos at the curtain call.
The actors onstage owe a lot to Roger Hodgman’s brisk direction, Anthony Ward’s gorgeous sets and costumes and Dana Jolly’s energetic choreography. They’ve all given the show a bright and fresh approach, making sure nothing in the script or the score feels at all dated.
The show is admittedly not without a few problems here and there, but there’s enough to keep you laughing, singing and tapping along. It’s full of show-stopping moments and when Chitty takes flight, it’s a moment of theatrical magic that every adult and child should experience.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is one fabulous night at the theatre and five to ten days of trying to get the title song out of your head.