REVIEW: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Theatre Royal Newcastle, until June 12
It was one of the most iconic, loved and memorable films of my childhood.
Who can forget American Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts, Sally Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious, the amazing Lionel Jeffries as Grandpa Potts, James Robertson Justice as Lord Scrumptious and the nightmares caused by Robert Helpmann as the evil Childcatcher in the 1968 movie version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?
And so any stage adaptation will inevitably draw comparisons with that famous film, such were the numerous classic cinematic scenes.
I am pleased to report that the latest touring musical hits all the right notes. It is entertaining, funny, visually spectacular and includes all those singalong hits by the award-winning Sherman brothers. The show originally premiered at the London Palladium in 2002 with six new songs by the Shermans and boasted the world's most expensive stage prop - the flying car, which cost a staggering Â£750,000.
The magical vehicle with red-and-yellow striped wings landed at Newcastle's Theatre Royal yesterday, where it will be wowing audiences until Sunday, June 12. It races, it floats, it winks, it tilts, it chitties, it bangs and, yes, it flies - high above the stage - in scenes every bit as emotional as the original film.
And Chitty is surrounded by a company of stars that do it and the legacy justice. Chief among them is young Carrie Hope Fletcher, a superstar in the making, who brings the correct degree of feistiness, charm and humour to the role of Truly Scrumptious. That coupled with a beautiful singing voice made her casting practically perfect. She sunk effortlessly into the character and her enthusiasm was truly infectious.
Her Doll On A Music Box was authentic, expertly executed and way beyond cute.
Lee Mead, the winner of the BBC talent show Any Dream Will Do to find a new Joseph, had the hardest act to follow. He is no Dick Van Dyke, but certainly put his stamp on the patriarchal figure of quirky inventor Caractacus Potts. His voice was true and clear, but his approach was more low key than the overtly nutty Van Dyke.
Mead's rendition of the lovely lullaby Hushabye Mountain provided the most touching moment of the entire production and his clown to Carrie's doll was another moment to savour.
One of my favourite performances was by Andy Hockley, who could be a reincarnation of Lionel Jeffries! His two big numbers, Posh and The Roses Of Success, were highlights of the show, the latter, in particular, left me feeling all warm with happiness.
Completing the family unit, the two youngsters Louie Green (Jeremy) and Darcy Snares (Jemima) were faultless, their little voices filling the auditorium. They are among three teams of talented children who rotate the roles.
The musical pretty much follows the plot of the film. Widowed inventor Potts is down on his luck and transforms a broken-down champion Grand Prix car into a fancy vehicle for his children. But the toy-collecting, teddy-bear-hugging Baron Bomburst hears of the special car and wants it for his own, sending two henchmen, Boris and Goran, to seize it one way or another. But Chitty has other ideas! When Grandpa Potts is kidnapped and carted off to the land of Vulgaria, where children are banned, the family and their trusty steed set off on an adventure to rescue him.
Eastenders and Coronation Street star Michelle Collins was sassy and deliciously vamped up for the part of Baroness Bomburst, strutting about the stage as if she owned it and working well with another ex-Eastender Shaun Williamson as the Baron. The chemistry between them fizzled somewhere between devotion and mistrust, their signature song putting a smile on everyone's Chu-Chi Face!
The hilarious Scott Paige (Goran or, in England, Gordon) and Sam Harrison (Boris or, in England, Doris) provided endless laughs as their hapless panto-style escapades failed miserably to outwit a motor vehicle. I really enjoyed both their performances and laughed out loud at their gags and their attempts to transform themselves from Vulgarian to tickety-boo Englishmen, complete with a variety of cunning disguises and a shell phone to report back to the Baron.
Matt Gillett was suitably evil as the Childcatcher sending shivers down many a spine and reminding the older members of the audience of those nightmares of yore.
The staging was spectacular and the dance routines for the super, energetic Me Ol' Bamboo and The Roses of Success left us wanting more. The show sparked memories, kept us giggling and singing all the way home and gave us a fantasmagorical evening.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Sunday, June 12. Tickets are from Â£23 and can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 (calls cost 7ppm plus your phone company’s access charge).