Move aside, “Fast and Furious” franchise—“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” the original “fantasmagorical machine,” is back on the scene at Franklin Park Arts Center for two weekends starting April 22.
The talented players and supporting cast of Main Street Theater Productions’ latest musical brings the excitement, drama, humor and romance of the hit 1968 film to life—including the eponymous car around which the story revolves.
“I must say she has a little something special about her just like the car in the film version,” Ann Cirillo, director, teases. “Does she float? Does she fly? I encourage folks to come and see and be sure to bring their imagination and fun-loving spirit!”
Chitty from Film to Stage
The tender set likely has not had the pleasure of becoming familiar with Dick Van Dyke’s goofy-yet-earnest portrayal of Chitty’s protagonist, Caractacus Potts, in director Albert R. Broccoli’s late ’60s film, nor its laudable-for-the-
era green-screen effects. They have perhaps not delighted in the vision of
Lionel Jeffries—as Caractacus’ dotty father, Grandpa Potts—declaring his intention to meet the Maharaja for tea, only to repair to his tiny, outhouse-like hovel, where ostensibly his fantasies continue to play out among its tiny environs. Certainly they have not been struck with deep unease as they watch the perfectly creepy Robert Helpmann, as Childcatcher, prowl the streets of the fictional Vulgaria in search of free-range children.
All these revelations were, mere days ago, experienced fully by your author as research for this column. The fuzzy outlines of the film “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” on which the musical is based, were familiar from childhood, but the specifics had not been captured. Suffice to say, having consciously revisited the tale, its conversion into a stage musical more than 30 years later was inevitable and absolutely correct.
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” the stage musical, premiered in London in 2002, and subsequently enjoyed a 14-year run on Broadway and lesser domestic and international stages. By musical theater standards, it’s a relatively new kid in town, an attribute Cirillo found attractive. “[‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’] is something fresh for the community theater stage and had not been performed in the area until recently,” she said, adding that the show’s family-wide appeal made it a perfect fit for Main Street’s repertoire.
More than 50 community members make up the cast, and dozens more lend their talents to producing the musical’s impressive sets, costumes and, of course, Chitty herself.
“When we started talking about doing ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ early last summer, we decided the car must be built to meet the needs of this production,” Cirillo said. “Curt Carlson stepped up and took on the challenge and the end product is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and art.”
Two Main Street newcomers, Chris Gray and Jen Drake, play protagonists Caractacus Potts and Truly Scrumptious, and are supported by youngsters Caroline Jacobson and Clay Grisius as Caractacus’ children, Jemima and Jeremy. “When you see and hear [Caroline and Clay] your heart will melt,” Cirillo said. “I cannot help but smile when they are on stage.”
Indeed, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is a smile-fest from overture to finale, with more than a dozen tunes guaranteed to stick in the mind for days. The songs punctuate a tale that, at its heart, is about perseverance, family and imagination.
“I see ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ as a story about a loving, kind and quirky family,” Cirillo said. “Chitty, the car, is just the ‘vehicle’ through which and in which we tell this story. It is important to convey their story in this fun imaginative way—a way that reflects the Potts family as eccentric and inventive but always as a ‘family.’ It is a ‘race’ to tell this story and thus you will find the checkered flag pattern throughout the sets and costumes. As the story unfolds and the magic of the Potts, Chitty and her car-stealing enemies is told, the story and colors on stage become bigger and brighter.”
Those who are familiar with the film will be pleased to hear that the stage musical includes action and songs not included on celluloid. “[This show] offers some additional new scenes and songs, which I find exciting,” Cirillo said. “I enjoy surprises in a show that is well-known and loved—it helps to keep things fresh.”
Producing Chitty on Franklin Park’s cozy stage presented fresh challenges, too.
“Having come from a stage that is very large with lots of wing and fly space, it was a big transition to move to a smaller venue like Franklin Park,” Cirillo added. “I learned and continue to learn from Karlah [Louis’, co-founder of Main Street Theater] working knowledge of Franklin Park. She has successfully produced many large shows on Franklin’s small-but-mighty stage. Because of Karlah’s talents and experience and Franklin Park staff’s willingness to work with us, this challenge has been tackled in a creative, fun way.”
That creativity manifests itself in Carlson’s crafty car, the show’s impressive costumes and its captivating sets. Caractacus’ breakfast machine (undoubtedly a precursor to the Rube Goldberg made famous by Paul Rubens’ Pee Wee Herman) and aspects of the Scrumptious candy factory are reproduced to impressive effect, and all at the hands of community volunteers.
“Nothing in Chitty is being rented—it all comes from a team of many talented people from this local community,” Cirillo said. “Their talents and willingness to share their time is a reflection of who they are, of course, but it is also a celebration of the people who help to make up Loudoun County.”
Celebrate the county’s vast talents — performance, musical, craft, and otherwise — as they take center stage at Franklin Park for six nights. Evening shows are set for 7:30 p.m. April 22, 23, 29 and 30, with matinees at 2 p.m. April 24 and May 1. Tickets are $20 for adults or $15 for students and seniors. Online ticketing information, directions and other details are available at mainstreettheaterproductions.org.