Flying into West Yorkshire Playhouse for the festive season is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the musical adaptation from Ian Fleming's famous children's novel about an old racing car which takes on an adventurous life of its own.
Featuring a host of famous musical numbers from the 1968 film and the latter West End hit, the Playhouse present perhaps their biggest and boldest Christmas show yet. In a prudent move by Artistic Director James Brining, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is staged in the heart of the Winter season and offers a daring alternative to the usual festive fare. Presenting an iconic story that promises spectacle, stunts and nostalgic anthems, it is event-theatre which delivers in abundance.
The show has verve and energy under Andrew Hilton's musical direction, providing a richness and visceral punch to musical numbers, particularly during the Chitty signature theme. With a powerful chorus and rich brass section, it explodes with pomp, ceremony and celebration. Equally grand is Stephen Mear's choreography, ambitious and expansive in style, showcasing a charged samba sequence that brims with flare and a cheeky charisma. Buttressed by a relentlessly charged ensemble, the show has no shortage of big, impressive dance sequences.
James Brining has assembled a magnetic cast headed by Jon Robyns as a stoic and chivalrous as Caractacus Potts, whilst Amy Griffiths showcases her songbird clarity as a sassy Truly Scrumptious with a fresh contemporary feel. Standouts include Tamsin Carroll as an outrageously saucy Baroness Bomburst paired with a truly hilarious Baron by Don Gallagher (who also turns in a memorably morose Lord Scrumptious). A particular delight is Sam Harrison and Scott Paige as Vulgarian spies Boris and Goran, camping up in true comic strip fashion. Stephen Matthews' infamous Childcatcher is irresistibly macabre, with reaper-like qualities which are sure to chill audiences to their core. Henry Kent and Caitlin Surtees are delightful as Jeremy and Jemima, showcasing an admirable vocal clarity and warmth.
Chitty herself is a huge technical achievement, beautifully fashioned in chrome and animated through a combination of physical effects with vibrant projection design. Despite being a marvel of modern effects, it's the human performance and personal engagement which breathe magic into the show's infamously expensive prop, creating a character which genuinely has a heart. Thanks to the show's orchestral score and uplifting chorus, you'll believe that a car can fly.
Rapturously nostalgic and endlessly evocative, this ambitious production is a magical flight of fancy for all the family. An expansive adventure bursting with colourful characters, valorous dance and scintillating song, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is truly sumptuous.
Originally published for Entertainment Focus.
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