No doubt about it: the car's a star! A superstar in fact. It
cost pounds 6million to stage Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the
London Palladium - a staggering amount in West End theatre terms.
But just to see that amazing flying automobile was worth every
penny as far as the ecstatic first night crowd were concerned.
A glittering contraption
of gold, glass and varnished wood, it defies both belief and
gravity. I am tempted to say it "literally" flies
- with four passengers on board - this extraordinary theatrical
vehicle appears to soar through the air.
The sell-out audience
gasps while I - your cynical critic - strained to work out how
on earth the thing got off the ground. And for most of this
breathtaking two-and-a-half hour spectacular I remained in a
state of awe-struck confusion. Right at the end, I finally spotted
the secret. But I'll wager I was one of the very few who did.
And it would be churlish to complain.
As is common in the
musical format, some of the drama veered towards the pantomime
but when the action showed the merest hint of dragging, up popped
Chitty and there we all were - back in a childlike world of
magic. This was not an event I came to with enthusiasm. Never
having seen anyone burst into spontaneous song in my entire
life, I have failed to take to the musical and its necessary
air of unreality. But this exuberant, lavish, almost unbelievable
festival of fun was irresistible. Like a tidal wave, it engulfs
you and carries you along at breakneck speed. It is a winner
through and through.
To coin a phrase,
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a sure-fire hit. Michael Ball is
the large cast's only genuinely impressive singer who in the
lead role as Caractacus Potts takes his children Jemima (Lauren
Morgan) and Jeremy (Harry Smith) on the adventure. But the marvellously
simple songs of Richard and Robert Sherman - the duo who also
penned the songs for Mary Poppins - don't require operatic talent.
Which is just as well for leading lady Emma Williams, who looks
great as the revoltingly named Truly Scrumptious but barely
seems to be able to hit her notes.
Veteran TV sitcom
star Anton Rodgers (Grandpa Potts) does not emerge as the new
Pavarotti - but every comedy-packed number he delivers had the
crowd in stitches. Brian Blessed whose famous baritone voice
seems to recede deeper into his throat with every performance,
hammed it up as the absurdly evil Baron Bomburst. He is very
funny - but it is typical Blessed and he could have done it
in his sleep.
Just out of Coronation
Street, Nichola McAuliffe was a revelation as Baroness Bomburst.
Hilarious from start to finish, she stole all the laughs. And,
behind Ball, she is definitely the show's second best singer.
This grotesque duo's wittily named King of Vulgaria has a total
ban on children.
Rocky Horror Show
creator Richard O'Brien is excellent as the dastardly Childcatcher
whose reign of terror has forced all the Vulgar kids to seek
refuge in the sewers. He is also hindered by the Toymaker (Edward
Petherbridge) who helps to hide the children When this roller-coaster
of a musical first starts, it's hard to see where all the money
But with each successive
scene this extravaganza exudes more of its unprecedented expensiveness.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has been brought to the West End by
Eon Productions - which owns the rights to the works of James
Bond author Ian Fleming . Fleming wrote Chitty for his son in
1964 and it oozes a kind of post- Nazi political satire.
It's a kind of junior
007 complete with heroes, villains and evil dictators whose
vile regimes cannot last.
Many an expert eyebrow
has been raised at Eon's massive financial investment. Others
have groaned at the prospects of yet another stage version of
a hit movie.
But if anything can
rise above the malaise of non-attendance afflicting the London
theatre, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is it. And...oh what a car!
LAST NIGHT'S FIRST NIGHT: Hitty Hitty Bang Bang. , The Mirror,
04-17-2002, pp 15.