Review about the shows on 26h April 2003 by Giulietta
And a diamond she really is. with the memories of the original cast not so far away, could Chitty keep her sparkle? Well the answer is a unanimous yes! The Audience roared with appreciation, which must surely be a good sign!,
Having dashed into our upper circle seats slightly late (as Michael arrived around 1pm, so lunch was a bit rushed!) we sat down to the dulcet tones of the overture - the audience clapping as usual to the all too familiar trademark tune..The grand prix scene has been shortened, perhaps to accommodate additions later in the show so Chitty no longer gets time for her acrobatic pitstop. Our first glimpses of the baron & Baroness were rather brief, but Victor Spinetti's Baron lines seemed to suggest a less exaggerated Baron but this was very early of course. We move swiftly on to meeting the Children with Mr Coggins, all of which were wonderful as ever. These children (I'm sorry, can't work out which couple) could be my personal favourites so far, voices very clear and remincient of J & J from the film. Then Truly arrives on stage played by Caroline with a more stern approach I found. She leaves the scene with the children, and I couldn't help but feel she was going to cause our Caratacus problems!
have missed this though! It never ceases to amaze me, that each performance, Michael is able to put the same fresh energy into each performance - while so clearly still thoroughly enjoying the whole show. His discussion with Truly leaves Michael totally uninterested with her (unlike before) with his "yeees" response to J&J's comment about Truly being so pretty, being changed to " yess.. pretty appalling" which sets up more of a challenge to this relationship - again a turn torwards the film slant? We have "You two" and its so very clear - Michael was in A1 form - yet again J. The chat between C & Grandpa follows the "we don't fight" direction as they talk about their role as "parents" . works fine, not sure why the dialogue was changed here.
Aah, to Toot sweets, we meet our man at the factory entrance - who also narrates the hint towards toot sweets being interesting only to dogs - which will spark the parents interest, who are likely to know the film - but this rather takes away the element of surprise to come. Still the dogs received their just applause, as they performed perfectly as usual, much to the delight of the audience. A new development is the Vuglarian spies appearing at the end of the scene, remind us that they have been following C (something which we forgot I feel before) quite closely, snooping around the sweet factory - they narrate a bit more story, and run off stage as the dogs appear - this actually makes sense when they come running back on stage, but away from the dogs, although now - still dressed in their Vulgar Black outfits with red trimming...
Our Vugarian companions, immediately bring to mind the great Morecome & Wise of yesteryear - their comical style was very much straight man/funny man, and executed the new "Act English" number with.. a kind of "Johnny English" flair - there were some definite "Bond" poses in there while they practised their English ways! For me, it's predecessor "Think Vulgar" was the only weak song in the production, this new styled version (although there are traces of "Vulgar") was wonderful to watch, and from the audiences reaction (roaring applause) to the Chicagoesque big finish, it was clear these 2 were going to be favourites tonight! One thing added was the suggestion that Vulgaria wanted to take over England, with the "soon they will take Spongels" and with this, the Vulgarian spies seemed to inherit a narrative role, and interesting development which can only help the young ones follow the plot :-) (at least saves the parents explaining :-) ).
So of course this outing does earn our Caracatcus enough Spongels oops £'s (J) to buy Chitty so we drift through the dreamy Hushabye scene with his usual angelic voice and we are taken to the funfair. (poor Jeremy seemed to be suffering a touch from flying, he didn't look too comfortable tonight !) which seems to have been also extended, with revised choreography, we have a new cowgirl character there too. proceeding through the hair raising seen (:-) ) I'm sure Michael has picked another accent for his "That way mate" line to distract Mr Baldie. followed buy the every popular folk dancing!
Apart from just one ole bamboo which didn't want to behave and went shooting down stage, this piece was energetic as ever, also extended with some new moves (thanks Gillian!), much to the delight of the audience once more. when Michael joins one of the lines in the routine, he shouts "Oi" at the bloke next to him. :-) was that an ad lib ?? or were they being silly??? All good fun!
Our new Turkey Farmer doesn't sound quite so local to the parts where Turkeys come from, but he does the trick - here comes Chitty.. Well almost - not until the Castle is clean - Grandpa Potts is given more to sing out with, having added back in a verse used in the film, something which I felt short changed about, so it was great to hear it back in! though the ending was a little odd.. P .O.S.. H.. Posh Posh Posh... guess they wanted to make sure we got it!!! And our Caractacus didn't escape without being called a "Great Nerd!" by his Dad, as he picks up some spares for Chitty!!
Truly arrives for breakfast, Chitty emerges from her workshop as ever under Caratacus' watchful eye - and we're off to the sea side!!! Vulgarian still lurking in their snorkling equipment, more obvious to Michael but soon scuttle off to the sea, to make way for "Truly Scrumptious" which Caroline sings beautifully. Some additions were the man from hair cutting scene (still Bald!) and his partner stroll by (obviously not seeing Caratacus, as he is under Chitty J) and some rearranging of the dialogue I think. Carolines Truly is more mature, with a voice more remiscent of Sally Anne Howe and the change from the "infuriating" Truly that Caractacus describes on first meeting, is more obvious - you can actually see Caratacus' heart melting I think as she plays with the children. nothing new there :-)
We swimmingly to the sea chase and I never noticed, the shadow created by Chitty actually looks like a ship on water!!! Don't worry - she still escapes with all passengers! So then to our first close look at the Baron & Baroness.. Sandra's Baroness reminded me of Bonnie Langford in Just William, with her trademark squeaky voice, exaggerated for this I'm sure. her panic attacks are convincing (quite different from Nicola's tantrum) and she is obviously not so partial to M&S as Nicola was :-) - while the Baron can be seen to be far less animated than Mr Blessed. His accent was more subtle, though you still got the point - better not get on his bad side! One thing added is the Plan B - take Caractacus the inventor, if we cant get the car! Aha says the audience...
Moving swiftly (oh gosh, still not end of Act 1) and we see Grandpa whisked away.. with tiny chitty & co in hot pursuit, and then a new development... the famous balloon with minature Grandpa swoops low down into the stalls from left to right (I had thought in desperation this was taken out) where the audience see quite close. well received. and to a new scene which develops a kind of Benny Hill chase idea. The Bald man from the fan fair and girlfriend, bump into our Vulgarian spies and the discuss the mixup of the 2 Caratacus' and is desperation the spies panic - "Sausages!"
Chitty performed her flying scene - perfection - and here endeth act !!!!!!!!!!!
Well.(don't panic Act 11 notes seem more scare J). All recovered and legs stretched, onwards to Vulgaria.. (oh, something I forgot, no more mentions of French cheese etc, perhaps it was decided this was a bit to unfair to our French visitors :-) )
Victor again seemed rather like he was "going through" the motions, but on reflection, its just his take on the Baron I feel - it becomes apparent there was probably much adlibbing from Brian, which really would not be right for Victor to mimic - he's well on his way to making this his own, perhaps born in a different part of Vulgaria J
Some dramatic changes to the "Roses" scene as we see Peter Bishop & Ray C Davis in there too (apologies if they already were!!) one inventor seems to have a heartattack on stage - and they "jump start" him with the battery on the Baron's car!!! Don't panic though - he does jump back up - (all children who leaned forward in despair, lean back with relief :-) ) but the big spark did make me jump outta my seat!!!
The Baron checks up on them, and finds when he sits in the car, it falls apart - and of course, Grandpa gets his sausages threat (no more waffles as Brian threatened on the 15 th March!!!)
Enter.. The childcatcher (OK he appeared earlier, but forgot that bit!!) who is vvvvvvvvery scary!!! Derek plays a very energetic yet dark childcatcher - perfectly mixing spoken & sung parts to Kiddy Winkies. a very haunting voice... eeek! When he ran across the stage that comes out past the orchestra (sorry, don't know technical name!) one of the children in the audience roared rebelliously at him, and he stepped back while in mid song - with a "watch it" kind of stare! Nice touch! Nice to hear the kids getting involved like this!
So to the toyshop - and we meet the toymaker.. Who is called... ze toymaker :-) Different shape to Mr Petherage, though played quite low key again.. Of course this makes the disguise a little less convincing when the childcatcher sneaks in, but hardly noticeable! By now, I've noticed there is some Phantom style screaming, seems to be new, quite frightening, come to think of it, when Chitty falls from Beachy head, and when the child catcher takes the children - not sure if this is Caroline, may be the little girl - very alarming!! And onwards to the dungeons, where I waited in anticipation for the Hushabye reprise. following a stirring rendition of Teamwork, the orchestra builds up to a key change back to Hushabye.. "It isn't far. to Hushabye mountain.." With a new line, "winds of change". I'm sorry I was too caught up in the emotion, to keep writing (plus actually, very hard to write in the dark) that builds to Michaels trademark... Hmm could just be that B flat...but I think, they may have turned his mike off (if you pardon the expression) was just heavengly.. Sigh. sorry, so moving on..
Chiu chi face,Sandra opens her raunchy dressing gown, now line in red it seemed, and slightly shorted than Nicola's (which was rather difficult for her to negotiate at times!) to reveal a slightly less bold basque (though not much!!) as her costume seems longer :-) and Victor didn't go for the lift - but then he is a smaller man than Brian - well seemed so from the Upper circle! More cutie singing from Sandra, the pair are quite comical, seeming one more, like the film rendition, with the Baron a little more serious,.."One very bizarre thing was the Baron's guesses on what this years surprise party was.. An odd choice "mummies and nappies" with the Baroness making some comments about running out of nappies or something. that was a rather odd!! Can imagine kids asking - " whats that????" hmmm" and then launches into the Samba!
Sanda's voice seemed to struggle, ever so slightly against the big number, felt they've pulled back on the chorus and build up for her so that she can be heard - but not matter. the effect is still "far away. in South America" (though at times it did sound a little like the "philadephia" cheese advert. on purpose though :-) This whole sequence seemes extendeded, with Gillian spicing it up once more, the whole cast still enjoying themselves.
So, to the presents . Caroline, although her voice seemed very slightly harsher than Emmas, was clear as a bell for Doll on a music box, and her arm movements were so very convincing - she had that absolutely spot on! And Michael of course, was wonderful, nothing to say there .. sigh. oh sorry.. I digress:-) With the riot, the kids were greating beating up all the Vulgarians, but Victors' fear of heights which I heard mentioned in Theatregoer does seem evident, as he was not linched nearly as high as Brian was, in fact he was barely above the chair, but the effect was still fine - as the kids were pulling had as if to make him go higher as the curtain came down for the dungeon scene..
So we are drawing to a close, and fair Chitty comes out to save the day! Not to fly off until dispensing of the Childcatcher, who soared through the roof - just as Chitty continues to.
So lets see, some key questions - bunnies never fear, Michael still has his "Dash it" line, which seemed even more sweet (if at all possible) and "Daddy loves you. very much" if a sticker now. If there are any doubts, other than those concerns caused by ramblings of a fan of a timeless piece - go see it, the magic is still there.