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‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ takes HCT to new heights

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Courtesy photo David Smith, Megan Heaps, Abigail Edwards and Will Breinholt in Hale Centre Theatre's production of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

By Daisy Blake

Special to The Tribune

First published Feb 19 2013 06:43PM
Updated Feb 20, 2013 01:56PM

If you don’t have tickets to Hale Centre Theatre’s "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," go to a computer and book them now. It is truly, madly, deeply and seriously phantasmagorical — which explains why it’s also sold out through March 4.

Fortunately, it runs through April 13 and many tickets remain.

When you arrive at the theater, you’ll see that the curtain goes around the stage, which means there’s an exciting secret about to be unveiled. In this case, it’s not only a car that flies, but a show that’s close to flawless.

Based on the novel by famed James Bond author and creator Ian Fleming, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" features music and lyrics by the Sherman Brothers (the composers of "Mary Poppins") and a score that includes classics such as "Truly Scrumptious," "Toot Sweets," "Hushabye Mountain" and the Oscar-nominated title song. The original Broadway production received five Tony Award nominations.

The musical, in its first regional production, begins when a race car’s career comes to an end with a damaging crash during a Grand Prix race. The car ends up in an old garage, where it is to be sold and melted down to liquid ore. Two young children, Jeremy and Jemima Potts, intercede and beg their inventor father to purchase the car, and the magical adventures begin.

HCT shows are always technically sound, and the actors sing and dance beautifully. What I always hope is that their acting skills give the show a heart, which is happily the case with "Chitty." I became deeply invested in a storyline that was delightfully obscure, at times touching and sporadically so dark that I shivered in my seat.

I saw the Monday, Wednesday, Friday cast, led by David Smith as Caractacus Potts and Megan Lynn Heaps as Truly Scrumptious. Heaps is one of my favorite Hale Center regulars for her natural onstage demeanor. In this production, she is well matched by Smith and the other actors playing the Potts family.

In pure comedy roles, there is the zany pairing of Kyle Olsen as Baron Bomburst and Ali Bennett as Baroness Bomburst, the tyrant rulers of the fictional Vulgaria. These two offered lovely physical comedy and intricate wit achieved with the varying volume and tone of their delivery. Bennett particularly gets a lot of mileage from throw-away lines; I couldn’t deduce whether they were scripted or not, but they were hilarious.

I’m incredibly picky when it comes to accents, and in this show, the cast has all of them nailed — except when the children have been banished to the sewers in Vulgaria.

I heard an American accent and an English one. Wouldn’t they be Vulgarian, like the Baron and Baroness?

Director John J. Sweeney manages to extract fine performances from his cast while also incorporating the super-technical aspects of the show — which are stunning.

The props and sets come to life and Chitty, the flying car, has her own journey just like a character in the show. It took a team of more than a dozen local artists, craftsmen and technicians months to design and build the re-creation of the iconic car from the 1968 movie. Chitty drives, floats and flies above HCT’s moving stage.

The set and props are complemented by the lighting design, which included some special effects I’ve never seen before — namely when the cannon shots are dense rainbow smoke rings that float across the stage.

The costumes and makeup are a smorgasbord of beauty, opulence and a rather intriguing splash of the sinister, which is definitely suggested by the script.

Worth mentioning were the gorgeous outfits of Truly Scrumptious (I adored her opening driving ensemble) and the Vulgarian ensemble costumes in the Samba scene, in which all the characters looked like various love children of Nicki Minaj and the Mayor of Whoville.

The most wonderful and disturbing outfit, though, was that of the Child Catcher, with a bullet belt of sweets, lollipop ammunition and epaulets on his shiny black coat made of candy ribbon.

Just like the car, this "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" is a real winner.

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