Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The stage musical follows the screenplay fairly closely. Widowed, down on his luck, father of two, inventor Caractacus Potts turns a broken down champion car into a vehicle for his children. When the man-boy, toy loving, Vulgarian Baron Bomburst hears of the special car he wants it for his own so he sends his trusted spies Boris and Goran to get the car, one way or another. The Potts family, along with the delightful Truly Scrumptious who takes a shine to Caractacus, finds Chitty's special abilities are sorely needed when they are pulled into a scary, thrilling, fun-filled adventure when Grandpa Potts is kidnapped and they find themselves in the land of Vulgaria, where children are banned and the scary, evil Child Catcher is always lurking around the corner ready to snatch any stray children away.
While some of the plot may seem scary, the musical plays up the fun elements of the story and the infectious Sherman brothers tunes are some that you'll find yourself humming for days. Jeremy Sams and Ray Roderick's stage adaptation (adapted from the Roald Dahl-Ken Hughes screenplay) doesn't clear up some of the somewhat confusing parts of the plot, so you may be slightly confused, especially in the opening sequence. But just sit back and let the enjoyable score and fun characters and crazy story entertain you.
Director Peter J. Hill, who also does an excellent job as Grandpa Potts, exhibits fine directorial choices in playing up the fun, humorous elements of the story and not making the scarier moments too terrifying. He derives fine performances from the entire cast and has wisely cast Chad Campbell as the quirky inventor Caractacus along with Campbell's two children, Benjamin and Elizabeth, as Jeremy and Jemima Potts. While Chad brings a lot of charm and joyfulness to the role, along with a firm grip on his character and a lovely singing voice, it is the endearing performance of his children and the realistic connection they have that make the threesome soar.
Kim Cooper Schmidt is equally good as Truly Scrumptious. She projects the right air of a prim and proper, upper-class English woman yet also instills the part with a keen sense of adventure and joy. Schmidt's singing voice is clear and lovely and her solo "Lovely Lonely Man" is full of poignancy and charm. Patrick Russo and Roger Prenger are hilarious as the bumbling Vulgarian spies and Gina Tomkus and Richard Wells play up the sassy, devoted Baroness and her childlike husband. In smaller parts, Darryl Poenisch is full of joy as the Toymaker while Asher Sheppard is full of fear as the Child Catcher.
Hill's set design uses some excellent projections from Todd Carrie that quickly whisk us from one location to the next. Jennifer Whiting's music direction derives lovely sounds from the large cast and small band. Noel Irick has crafted some engaging choreography that turns several numbers into showstoppers. Paul Snatic's costumes are full of rich detail and period touches. Diane Senffner's coaching achieves appropriate dialects from the entire cast, including the children.
Even on Fountain Hills' fairly small stage the larger than life adventures of the Potts family and their beloved flying car will still tug at your heart and put a smile on your face. With a gifted cast, fun creative elements, and solid direction, the end result is a truly scrumptious show.
Fountain Hills Theater's production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs through September 18th, 2016, with performances at 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd. in Fountain Hills. Information on tickets can be found at www.fhtaz.org or by calling 480-837-9661.
Director/Set and Light Design: Peter J. Hill