THE FIRST stage musical of the children's film Chitty Chitty
Bang Bang opened last night in one of the most lavish productions
seen on the West End stage in years.
Advance ticket sales
have already passed the pounds 8m mark for a musical whose true
star is the pounds 750,000 car of the title, which is designed
to soar over the London Palladium stalls.
Emma Williams, an
18-year-old unknown actress from Halifax, West Yorkshire, plays
the leading role of Truly Scrumptious, with the singer Michael
Ball playing the eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts, played
by Dick van Dyke in the film version.
Anton Rodgers and Brian Blessed play baddies with Richard O'Brien,
famous for writing and starring in The Rocky Horror Show, taking
the devilish role of the Child Catcher.
For the opening last
night, stars of the original, including Sally Ann Howes, who
played Truly Scrumptious, and Anna Quayle, who played the baroness,
were in the audience to give their verdict. The stage adaptation
was the idea of Barbara Broccoli, daughter of Cubby Broccoli,
the film producer most famous for the James Bond films.
Chitty Chitty Bang
Bang was, like the James Bond films, from a book by Ian Fleming,
adapted by the children's author Roald Dahl. And even the miraculous
car that transports Potts and his family to the faraway kingdom
of Vulgaria has a touch of the James Bond about it.
The show has cost
pounds 6.2m to stage, six times as much as the film made at
Pinewood 35 years ago. Even so, the production has received
almost as much attention for the involvement of its director,
Noble took leave
from running the Royal Shakespeare Company to direct the show,
a decision likely to make him a fortune, but one which infuriated
critics of his proposed changes to the running of the RSC. There
have been some changes to the new version.
The score for the
film was written by American brothers Richard and Robert Sherman,
who have updated it for the musical. "There were a lot
of potentials in the film version that were not totally realised,"Robert
Sherman has said.
The musical features
new incidental music and numbers to go with the old favourites
such as "Truly Scrumptious", "Toot Sweets"
and "Hushabye Mountain".
Whatever the critics
say, the result is likely to be popular with children. With
Starlight Express gone and Cats due to close next month, there
will be few child-friendly shows in the West End. Only The Lion
King remains as a serious rival.
Gillian Lynne, the
choreographer who also worked on Cats, is convinced Chitty Chitty
Bang Bang will be a hit. "We have to face the fact after
11 September, life isn't the same, and we need something carefree
and innocent to relax with," she said.
Chitty Chitty Bang
Bang will need to keep pulling the crowds. Although the Palladium
holds 2,000 people, a spokesman warned that the running costs
were so huge that it has not yet broken even despite the advance
Louise Jury Media
Correspondent, `Chitty' comes to the West End with pounds 8m
bang. , Independent, 04-17-2002, pp 7.