Based on the famous film, itself based on a book by Ian Fleming, the stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has been delighting audiences across the country since its West End premiere in 2002.
The musical tells the story of Caractacus Potts and his children Jeremy and Jemima and the adventures they have in the magical flying car of the title which takes them from a beautiful English beach to the ridiculous country of Vulgaria where all the children are imprisoned.
The material is very strong indeed and works much better here than it does on film. Other than the pointless number "Posh", every song by the Sherman brothers is a winner and Jeremy Sams’ stage adaptation is respectful enough of the film, but also original enough it its own right.
In this current tour Darren Bennett leads the cast as Caractacus Potts, a role made famous in the film by Dick Van Dyke. Bennett dispels any memory of Van Dyke and makes the role his own. His performance is full of charm and warmth and he boasts a beautiful light tenor voice that I could listen to all day. Truly Scrumptious is a role that could easily be played as overly twee but Katie Ray avoids this pitfall and gives the character substance and humour.
Grandpa Potts is given just the right amount of eccentricity by John Griffiths and his number with the mad old inventors, The Roses of Success is a highlight. Despite its high profile the role of the Child Catcher is actually very small, but Dean Maynard makes the most of his brief appearances and is wonderfully villainous and creepy.
A strong performance is also given by Edward Peel as Baron Bomburst, but it is Kim Ismay as Baroness Bomburst who really owns this show. She is utterly hilarious with brilliant wit and outrageous facial expressions and therefore she totally steals every scene featuring the Baroness.
The ensemble are a slick, hard working bunch who all look like they are having a ball and this enjoyment certainly pays off as the energy levels are consistently high throughout. However, at times their diction is very poor.
Of course, the major attraction of Chitty is the car itself and from its grand entrance to its own curtain call it looks amazing and flies around the stage at all angles carrying its load of passengers as if by magic. The only let down is that it doesn’t fly right into the auditorium which I understand it did do on previous tours.
Visually this is an impressive show with some stunning set pieces designed by Anthony Ward, although I do suspect the set has been significantly scaled down from its original West End production. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the high production values which are also reflected in the excellent costumes.
Under the direction of Adrian Kirk, the thirteen piece orchestra accompany the show with gusto and Nick Lidster’s sound design ensures that Chris Walker's orchestrations sound superb.
Despite some very minor quibbles Director Adrian Noble, Choreographer David Morgan and the whole production team have done a wonderful job in staging this production ensuring that Chitty remains a triumphant and fantasmagorical night out at the theatre.