When this show was running in the West End, with a succession of star names in the big roles, Michael Ball was reported as complaining that it was hard being upstaged by a piece of machinery every night.
Well, the car’s still there, even if the big names aren’t, as the stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang takes to the road – or should that be skies? – for a second time.
Now I was never a huge fan of the original 1968 film, in spite of its pedigree: based on a story by Ian Fleming, co-written by Roald Dahl and produced by the James Bond man Cubby Broccoli. But its score – by Disney veterans Richard and Robert Sherman – won an Oscar nomination and it is undoubtedly loved by many.
The same can probably be said for the stage version, which received a delighted reception at press night and had the audience clapping along.
It’s certainly spectacular (to use the vernacular) and director Adrian Noble and designer Anthony Ward have spent a lot of the budget on how the whole thing looks. Sets are sumptuous, costumes colourful and props elaborate. There also appear to be hundreds of people on stage at times, which makes for a vibrant, exciting look, not to mention the pack of real-life dogs that almost steal the show from the car.
If the performances are a little uninspired, the characterisations rather flat and the comedy broadly scattergun in its approach, it hardly detracts from the epic scale of the piece and the infectious thrill of a huge band in the pit.
And there’s no denying the wonder of a car that really flies – oh yes it does – with all the magic that theatre can muster. The children in the audience aren’t the only ones with wide eyes.