LONDON (AP) _ The stage version of "Chitty Chitty Bang
Bang" has emerged as the year's biggest musical hit in
London, where the tale about a magical car looks set to soar
at the London Palladium for many a season to come.
The $9 million production
received mixed reviews when it opened April 16, but it has since
been building toward a daily box office of more than $750,000
and an advance ticket sale of nearly $15 million.
"I just loved
the material when I was offered it," says director Adrian
Noble, who found himself shepherding a daunting technical challenge
through six weeks of rehearsal and a month of previews.
The result is a busy,
technically sophisticated, very white-bread show whose star
is a $1.1 million winged Fiberglas car that floats through the
theater. But the car is not the only showy set piece. There's
the even more extraordinary 90-foot flight to the roof of the
Palladium by performer Richard O'Brien, whose spindly Childcatcher
makes a gravity-defying exit, hoisted aloft in a net balloon.
"I don't accomplish
it as much as go through it," O'Brien says. "Given
the choice, I wouldn't want to do that exit, (but) once you're
in that net, you keep your head in front of you." (Translation:
Don't look down.)
In any case, O'Brien
said the net may actually be more pleasant an environment than
the car itself: "It's terribly uncomfortable, that car;
it looks superb, but it's Fiberglas made to look like leather."
On the show's second
night, the car refused to work at all, which left over 2,200
people no choice but to go home disappointed when the show was
canceled. Noble says he geared the production toward a particular
market. "I had a little family in my head," says the
51-year-old director, who has two children, ages 5 and 8, with
his wife, actress Joanne Pearce. His thoughts were of "a
mom and dad and two kids who hadn't been to the theater in their
lives before and had saved up to see this show. I wanted them
to have the most exciting time of their lives when they went
to see it."
The show has given
a boost to British musicals, which lately have not been too
successful. Even composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and producer Cameron
Mackintosh, who were among the architects of the British musical
boom of the 1980s, bombed with their latest productions, "The
Beautiful Game" and "The Witches of Eastwick,"
Mia!" _ with its score of ABBA hits _ has set the West
End afire, traveling on to equal success on Broadway.
is based on the 1968 movie musical that starred Dick Van Dyke
as eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts and Sally Ann Howes as
his beloved Truly Scrumptious. With his motherless children,
Jemima and Jeremy, Truly and the dotty Grandpa Potts, Caractacus
drives Chitty through a series of adventures. Chitty's passengers
wind up battling the evil Childcatcher and the child-hating
baron and baroness of Vulgaria, a weirdly veiled Nazi state
of sorts, who want the car.
Michael Ball stars
as Potts and newcomer Emma Williams is the clarion- voiced Truly.
Other cast members include Brian Blessed as Baron Bomburst,
Nichola McAuliffe as Baroness Bomburst and Anton Rodgers as
The stage adaptation
includes many of the songs heard in the movie, which is based
on a book by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame. The production
includes Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman's familiar
title song, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," as well as
their "Truly Scrumptious, " "You Two" and
"Hushabye Mountain." A few new numbers have been added.
is in every respect superior to the original," wrote The
Guardian's Michael Billington.
Added critic Alastair
Macaulay of The Financial Times, "Less than 10 minutes
into the stage version, I was in love ... (the show) has a lit-from-within
sweetness that I don't recall from the movie."
Clapp of The Observer wrote, "It's hard to find an unnauseating
What might Fleming,
who died in 1964, the year his book came out, think of the stage
"I think he'd
have been highly amused that his fairy story ... had been expanded
to such an extent," said his niece, actress Lucy Fleming.
And the flying car?
"Uncle Ian was always fascinated by gadgetry," says
the writer's niece.
"He would have
adored all that." ___
On the Net: http://www.chittythemusical.co.uk
MATT WOLF, Associated Press Writer, New 'Chitty Chitty Bang
Bang' a Hit. , AP Online, 05-01-2002.