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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Theatre review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a family-friendly treat full of heart

Be warned. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has a way of getting inside your head. Even a day later you may find that a pesky earworm is still rattling around your brain. Fortunately, it brings on memories of the truly scrumptious Align Entertainment production of this family-friendly musical on stage at the Michael J Fox in Burnaby.

For those not familiar with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which seems to make a television appearance every year around the holidays, it tells the story of an eccentric inventor, Caractacus Potts, his two children, and the new woman in their life.

Restoring an old race car, they soon discover that it has magical properties, including the ability to float and fly. Wanting the car for himself, the evil Baron Bomburst sends his two inept spies to kidnap the inventor, only they don’t quite get that right. It is then up to the Potts family, aided by the father’s new love interest, to help save the day.

Based on the 1968 film, itself from a 1964 children’s book by 007 creator Ian Fleming, the musical stage adaptation follows a near-identical path to its movie cousin.  In fact, it is so true to the film that starred Dick Van Dyke that you’d be hard-pressed to find the differences. The love story, family adventure, hilarious evil villains, and even the flying car (no spoilers here, you’ll have to see for yourself how they pull this one off on stage), it is all here.

The first thing you will notice in this production is the sheer size of its cast. Counting 37 in the program, this is a massive undertaking for director Chad Matchette. Right off the top we are introduced to most of the cast, and the sound that they create together is simply dazzling. In the preview performance that I saw it is both a blessing and a curse though, as Matchette has the daunting task of dealing with all those bodies. Largely up to that task, sometimes things do get a little crowded.

Easily up for Chitty’s musical challenges under the direction of Brent Hughes, the same cannot always be said of the cast’s ability to execute on Melissa Turpin’s choreography. The music might be crisp and clear, but some of the larger production numbers featuring the adult ensemble are very rough. “Me Ol’ Bamboo” lacks the necessary precision, and the only way the odd “The Bombie Samba” number can actually work is if the dancers can pull off the Latin dance. Faring better is the children’s ensemble, especially in a delightful rendition of “Teamwork”.

As leading man, professional actor Kevin Michael Cripps brings the real heart to this show. While perhaps not quite as eccentric as eccentric inventors go, there is a warmth in both his performance and voice that makes up for it.  “Hushabye Mountain”, the lullaby to his children, is one of the highlights.

As his love interest, Cripps is joined on stage by Ranae Miller as Truly Scrumptious. Brash and bold at the outset, her transformation is genuine. She gets two moments to really shine and they are both worth the wait. The love ballad “Lovely, Lonely Man” is beautiful and heartfelt, and “Doll on a Music Box” is the perfect combination of voice and movement.

As the two Potts children Jemima and Jeremy, the duo of Jaime Maclean and Dawson Vogt are both adorable and talented. There is a sense of wonder and imagination that serves these two characters well, and even while there is always the risk of being too loud, they help the adults carry the show from start to finish.

Of course, a great deal of the fun in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang comes from its comedy, and the duo of Zachary Beardsley and Ryan Nunez are perfectly buffoonish as the two bumbling Vulgarian spies. Literally popping up from time-to-time, they are unabashed in their dreadful accents (both British and Vulgarian) and seem to be having the time of their life on stage. They absolutely kill it in the ridiculous and laugh-out-loud “Act English”.

Other stand-outs here include Mark Turpin and Katie Purych as the Baron and Baroness of Vulgaria. Turpin is particularly good with a nice baritone and his giddiness as the man/child is contagious. As the Childcatcher, Erin Matchette is devilishly grotesque.

Costume designer Julie White has obviously worked overtime in dressing so many on stage. The Vulgarian women were particular standouts, especially with Leah Cuff’s very funny make-up.

Sure, everyone wants to see Chitty fly, and in other productions, the car may have been the reason to go, but in this production director Chad Matchette and his cast have also found the heart. In the end, it really is about family, imagination and love.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with music and lyrics by Richard M Sherman and Robert B Sherman. Based on the MGM motion picture and adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams. Directed by Chad Matchette. An Align Entertainment production on stage at the Michael J Fox Theatre (7373 Macpherson Ave, Burnaby) until February 20. Visit for tickets and information.

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