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Theater Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

PC: Jack Grace
Early into “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” the David Kaye-directed production at the Historic Iao Theater, Sara Jelley (playing Truly Scrumptious) makes her entrance by riding down the theater aisle onto the stage. Sure, she’s on a bike that’s supposed to be standing in for a motorcycle, but it’s a moment that signals what’s to come. Namely, much more showmanship and theatrical magic than most shows. Of course, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” the musical based on the Ian Fleming story, isn’t like most family-friendly musicals.

Jelley’s Scrumptious befriends Caractatus Potts (played by Ricky Jones), an inventor who raises two children (well played by Kanoa Goring and Dakota Welch) and creates a slew of contraptions that don’t always work as intended. Over the course of the story, a handful of villains appear to complicate Potts’ life, including a wicked Baron (played by Keith Welch), his Baroness (played by Marsi Smith) and a real creeper called The Child Catcher (played by Ally Shore).

PC: Jack Grace

Perhaps the most famous touch in the production, which was adapted from the MGM musical (with its obvious influences from co-screenwriter Roald Dahl) is the flying car, which is brought to life through imaginative staging and a most persuasive, expensive-looking prop. In addition to this and the aforementioned riding a bike on-off stage, there’s also juggling, well-timed sound effects, Dale Button (playing Grandpa Potts) sporting hilarious mutton chops and a dog…played by a real dog! I haven’t even mentioned the funny and elaborate-looking inventions that Potts demonstrates or the rolling backdrop to simulate the driving scenes.

Kaye’s fast, wacky and hearty show emphasizes the moments that will delight adults with old fashioned stage craft and create genuine awe for children. It opens with silhouettes and children at play, a touch that immediately establishes its objective of tickling the imagination. This is a stellar example of children’s theater, with fine choreography by Erin Kowalick and lovely costumes by Vicki Nelson and Jessica Nelson.

PC: Jack Grace

Jones, sporting  clean, well-honed English accent, reminded me of Robin Williams in family-friendly mode. He’s especially dazzling in a dance sequence where his character isn’t supposed to be present but hoofs his way through the number.

Jelley (who played the title role of “Mary Poppins” a year ago) is especially hypnotic in the “Doll on a Music Box” number. Button turns two throwaway songs, “Posh!” and “The Roses of Success,” into all-out show stoppers. As the Baroness, Smith just about steals the entire show and appears to having a grand time doing it. Smith and Welch appear to be going for broke and beyond. Shore clearly aims to terrify the wee ones in the theater and will likely succeed every single performance. This is indeed a show for children but The Child Catcher, looking like Marilyn Manson’s kid sister, might be too much for some of the small keiki in attendance.

PC: Jack Grace

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” in every version,  always had a severe case of the cutes and is sugary enough to inspire a visit to the dentist. It’s so cutesy-poo, it makes “Elf- The Musical” look like “Death of a Salesman.” This production is strong enough for me to be Grinchy and admit I’ve never liked Fleming’s 007-free, flying car hooey but admire the considerable achievements of Kaye’s adaptation. The cast and crew give it everything they’ve got and, no matter what age, there’s impressive theatrical wizardry on display here. This is the kind of show where even the car gets major applause.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opened on Nov 24th and runs until Dec. 10th at The Historic Iao Theater. Tickets can be purchased by calling 808-242-6969 or by going to mauionstage.com.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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