REVIEW: Chitty Chitty Band Bang, Milton Keynes Theatre
Hailed a resounding success after it transferred from the big screen to the stage, the phantasmagorical family spectacular that is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has landed in Milton Keynes.
The brilliant new touring production comes courtesy of West Yorkshire Playhouse and it arrived at the new city’s theatre on Wednesday and runs until Saturday, May 14.
It stars former Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Casualty actor Lee Mead plus two ex-EastEnders, Michelle Collins and Shaun Williamson.
Lee Mead certainly shines as wacky inventor Caractacus Potts and his voice is perfect for the part played in the original film by Dick Van Dyck. His rendition of the show’s wonderful ‘Hushabye Mountain’ and his dancing ability in the rousing ‘Me ‘Ol Bamboo’ – although sometimes he was a little out of time! – brings the house down.
I well remember Lee’s ‘Any Dream Will Do’ audition on television when he duetted with US star Josh Groban on the way to becoming Andrew Lloyd Webber’s choice for the part of Joseph. Since then he has has gone from strength to strength with his acting career but he’s really best suited to musical theatre.
Meanwhile Michelle Collins swaps television’s soap land for the stage and she gives an hilarious performance as the child-hating, spoilt brat Baroness Bomburst. And she hasn’t got a bad voice either… just listen out for her singing the comical ‘Chu-Chi Face’ with Shaun Williamson.
Shaun was absolutely brilliant as the ridiculously childish toy-loving Baron Bomburst as well as playing the sweet producing magnate Lord Scrumptious, father of the show’s gorgeous Truly Scrumptious (Carrie Hope Fletcher) whose wonderful handling of ‘Doll on a Music Box’ brought rapturous applause from an appreciative audience.
Having just arrived in the show after playing Eponine in Les Miserables, Carrie has a wonderful voice and would be just as convincing as Mary Poppins, for she sounded just like Julie Andrews!
Then there’s Matt Gillett as the evil Childcatcher. He’s a true pantomime baddie who received plenty of boos and hisses in the finale from Thursday’s audience. In fact so evil does he appear that some of the parents in our row were putting a hand in front of their faces… and their kids loved it!
You can’t ignore the performance of Ewen Cummins as garage owner Bill Goggins in the first act and then as The Toymaker when the story moves to the fictitious country of Vulgaria in the second.
But it’s Sam Harrison and Scott Paige as wacky Vulgarian spies Boris and Goran that turn the early action into a pantomime with their Germanic soundalike accents. They were absolutely brilliant throughout in the comedy slapstick stakes – meanwhile there’s the two adorable children of widower Caractacus Potts, little Jeremy and Jemima.
Last night the ‘sweet twosome’ were Team Purple’s ten-year-olds Henry Kent and Lucy Sherman who will be a hard act to follow although Team Red (Aaron Gelkoff and Daisy Riddett) and Team Blue (Louise Green and Darcy Snares) might have something to say about that!
However for me the show’s most loveable character is Grandpa Potts (Caractacus’s father) played by the multi-talented Andy Hockley. It was like watching Only Fools & Horses’ Uncle Albert who I’m sure Andy must have studied to produce such a brilliant performance. He had all the mannerisms while he also led the catchy ‘The Roses of Success’ number along with six wacky Vulgarian Inventors… quite brilliant!
With music and lyrics by Academy and Grammy award-winning brothers Richard M and Robert B Sherman – they also brought us Mary Poppins, The Slipper and the Rose, The Aristocats and The Jungle Book – it’s James Bond author Ian Fleming’s classic children’s tale that has been brilliantly adapted from the MGM film to the stage by Jeremy Sams.
However few people know that it was legendary children’s author Roald Dahl who came up with the idea of the infamous and creepy Childcatcher. This year is the 100th anniversary of Dahl’s birth and as Fleming was a good friend, he helped the James Bond creator tweak this potty but enjoyable story. It’s the only one he ever wrote for a younger audience.
I loved the original 1968 film and now wish I’d seen the first stage adaptation years ago as it broke all box office records in the West End. However this superb production is by the team that brought us ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘The King and I’ and it delivers laughs and magic moments galore. And then there’s those memorable numbers like ‘Toot Sweets’, ‘Hushabye Mountain’, ‘Truly Scrumptious’ and, of course, ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ itself.
With knock-out special effects – largely thanks to video designer Simon Wainwright – it makes the flying car scenes almost believable as Chitty first learns to float and then to fly, the clever set design and lighting making it almost three-dimensional.
Meanwhile choreographer Stephen Mear ensured that the show’s talented and colourful costumed ensemble display their considerable skills to simply enhance what is already a great family show… and they don’t detract from the main characters.
Under the direction of keyboard-playing Andrew Hilton, there’s an 11-piece orchestra in the pit who never miss a beat in this wonderful family show. So don’t miss out as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a truly scrumptious and it plays for 2 hours 10 minutes plus a 20 minute interval.
Tickets are on sale from Milton Keynes Theatre Box office, call 0844 871 7652 or visit www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes (booking fees apply).