Rating 3 ~
For many usually sane adults, the mere whiff of the infamous and Oscar nominated title song from the 1968 film, 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' is enough to send them into spasms of delight and childish revels. Little wonder then that Ian Fleming's tale (yes, we're talking about the creator of the legendary secret agent 007) of a magical, flying car finally makes it to the London stage in a production touted as being the West End's most expensive musical ever.
The £6.2 million budget is very obviously on display and there's no disputing the fact that Anthony Ward's playful and seductive designs are first rate. But, despite the acres of twinkling stars, the mechanical inventions and the scene stealing air balloon that crosses the auditorium, the overall production lacks the key ingredient of magic. The show's trying so hard to please everyone that it ends up becoming a series of set pieces that, as remarkable as they are, do not add up to a cohesive whole.
The undisputed star of the evening is the car itself and it doesn't fail to impress. When it opens it huge wings and gracefully rises into the air the atmosphere is electric. After that who needs plot or characterisation? Saying that, there is a lot of fun to be had here and the excellent cast have great fun in sending up their eccentric parts with Brian Blessed, Nichola McAuliffe and Anton Rodgers on particularly good form.
Michael Ball is in perfect voice as Caractacus Potts and if he isn't quite the mad cap inventor the part requires he makes up for it with plenty of charm and a relaxed stage presence alongside Emma Williams' Truly Scrumptious. Unfortunately, Richard O'Brian's sinister child catcher no longer lures the children into his disguised prison cart with the promise of sweeties, but he does get one of the best exits ever written - through the roof of the auditorium ensnared in a huge rope net.
The Sherman brothers' music is steeped in the traditions of British music hall and is perfectly suited to Gillian Lynne's perky and pert choreography. For this new version they've written some new numbers which although lacking the simple appeal of the originals, are still perfectly pleasant.
'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' is a huge spectacle of a show that sets out to dazzle you with its box of tricks and easily succeeds. On this level it is brilliant, family entertainment that will leave the kids gasping with pleasure and the money rolling in. Don't expect anything else though. This isn't a complex show but proudly wears its heart on its sleeve.
Yet despite its faults, as soon as they combine the car, complete with moving headlight eyes, with that jaunty, infectious title song you instantly begin to grin.