There never was a car...

August 2001:
It's rumour time again. This month on the schedule: Michael Ball and which musicals can he be linked to. Hot in the race the always up-to-date "Jekyll and Hyde". Will Michael be going to kill women and die at the end? Or will he rather end up with a half masked face, hovering the Parisian underground as the Phantom or might he get his turn to shine in the Parisian sewers rescuing his long time alter ego Marius as the always popular Jean Valjean? We have a good laugh, when it's announced, that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang shall find it's way to West End stages and Pat says as a fun remark: Maybe that's what Michael will be doing. We have a good laugh and somehow I get the feeling Michael would have had as well at this time.

September 2001:
Anyway time proceeds, we get him back on Musical stages at the trendy Donmar theatre in the best piece of theatre he has ever done: Alone Together (just my humble opinion!). And now that he has something in common with Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, Philip Quast and soon as well Gwyneth Paltrow we hear something exciting might be coming up soon.

October 2001:
Most strangely what was once a good joke becomes more and more the hottest rumour in town. There is still some hope, some little, tiny sparkle of hope, that Michael might not be doing Chitty.  

Contra-List (Or: NO DON'T DO IT!)

Pro-List (Ok, if you think you have to...)

  • Michael is no TRAINED dancer

  • Michael is no trained dancer (new challenge)

  • No challenges for his voice

  • No challenges for his voice (He can show, that there is more to Michael Ball than being a singer!)

  • It's a children's movie

  • It's a children's movie (and one Michael loved!)

  • He has just done the Donmar!

  • OH He has just done the Donmar (so what a twist to take. From a serious show to a fun-children's musical!)

  • Chitty is the most expensive musical ever done in the West End

  • He will drive/fly/float the car (Chitty and me decided it's best to leave him with this wrong idea ;-))

  • Yet again: After rather serious shows like Les Mis, Phantom, AOL and Passion it's the first light-hearted thing Michael did on stage. His fans know how funny he is, so now let's show it to everyone!

Ok, you have guessed it now. Of course, there is a reason for the Chitty section on my website and of course he decided to do it. Hooray Michael :-/. Thoughts and hopes, that he has to know what he is doing and after all, he must have had tons of offers over the last few years and did not do anything. So his decision should have been well-thought of. Time passes and of course we get our tickets and plan to see the last night of the previews and for the first time ever a West End Opening Night! I have to admit I am more excited about the sheer prospect of seeing an Opening Night, than to see Michael in this show.

Watching the movie in time for the opening night, did not help much to raise my enthusiasm for Chitty the musical. I really did not like it at all. There were some nice bits and the thought of Michael being cute with children helped a bit, but the story? Why a two-parted story? Why did the children follow the child-catcher that easily? Why, why oh why?  

Time passes and soon, we find ourselves in hate for all those people who have seen the show already or who are going to see it, before will be. The unbelievable though happens. With more and more comments from friends and generally people who have seen the show, I start to get excited and I am finally really in the "I want to see the show now" mood! Hooray!  

Suddenly with horrendous big steps our next London trip gets closer. The "We" in question is this time not only Julia and me, but Sylvia as well. Mails are exchanged, the question of fashion is in discussion more than just once. Last accessories are bought and just two days before we head off the same horrible thing happens, that happened already before the Donmar. Signs of a cold are creeping up my body! But, what do you think, how can we improve on this? Right, add this with a bronchitis and you have your perfect damper to a wonderful trip. But at no time a cold or a bronchitis has ever stopped me and so we are finally really at the London Palladium, taking photos of the posters hanging outside the theatre!  

Most of the day was passed by me, thinking of how to get rid of the coughing and sneezing. Because let's face it: You will become nobody's best friend, when you sneeze or cough soundfully at a quiet part of the musical. And it does not really help, when your best friend threatens to take a different seat as soon as you sneeze in the middle of "Hushabye Mountain". But was pulling out one of the two shows we wanted to see really an option for me? Row E center stalls? I don't think so! 

So well prepared with enough tissues to last a whole Les Mis booking period and cough sweets that exceed the number of sweets I had ever eaten in my life, we finally make it to the last preview before the big opening night. So here we are and I already get excited at the sheer view of the blue sky stage decoration. Isn't this poor, done by a person, who was at first just so sure that she would not like the show?  

Some things that were already clear before the show started. This was nothing for people, who are just interested in sincere entertainment. Chitty is in no way Les Misérables, Aspects of Love or Passion. It's a fun musical, a children musical, and that's all it wants to be. It wants to entertain. And that's what it does! Perfectly for my money.

 It did not take me too long to really love the show. If you ever needed a definition of what a feel good musical is supposed to be, just go and see Chitty. I know it's one of the most expensive shows to see, but it's worth each and every single penny. I soon forgot about my cold and really started enjoying myself. Just the opening scene with Chitty's race already blew me away. How simultaneously all the actors moved, when the car was supposed to circle them in big rounds... fascinating! The sound and the lighting were just perfect. It has to be! If you feel like turning in hope you might see Chitty rounding the audience!  

The sets were fantastic and fascinating, be it the windmill, the breakfast machine, the Sweet Factory or even the toy shop. Though it was nice to see, I have to have a Vulgarian past! Growing up in Germany, a country with a very dark past, we are used to be the baddies in films and plays. Well deserved and we certainly can laugh about the Vulgarians  as loud as anyone else as they were hilarious. And it´s good to see this past is dealt with so splendidly. What was shocking to see though were the symbols used ..the flag, the colours, the greetings...not a thing to be seen in a children's musical on a German stage for sure;-). Some people living in Bavaria might not love it too much that's actually where Vulgaria is set.. and nowhere near Tchechoslovakia.. as someone next to us remarked to a friend, feeling very clever;-) Of course all the Vulgarians had a nice German accent, most of them better than what I could ever do (yeah, I know I am far from perfect Oxford English, but what some people do, when they try to speak English just makes me cringe!). 

Btw. If you belong to the people who plan to buy such a toy Chitty, be sure, you do it before you have seen the show. After the show, you won't be happy with this small toy Chitty! It is not one of the actors that gets the biggest laugh in the first half, no way: it's when! Grandpa just got kidnapped and suddenly, without any warning a model of the balloon and the toilet house fly over the first rows of the stalls, while you hear Grandpa complaining from inside the toilet. Sorry, but I was so much laughing that in two performances I did not get once, what he was saying. And just, when the toilet house disappeared, the attention gets back to the stage and back to my dream model Chitty. A mini version of the car, including four dolls inside crosses the stage, much to the laughter of the audience. I take bets at how many performances I need to once understand, what any of the characters are saying! 

What is the highlight of the first act? Despite the dancing during "Ol' Bamboo" and the short Waltz in Toot Sweets? Yes, of course the one and only star of the show: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Its entrée was breath-taking and of course the biggest highlight was the floating Chitty, but far more still - of course - the flying Chitty! The technicians did a wonderful job. I am not going to write here, how Chitty flies. All I can say is, when you look really close and you sit in the stalls there is the chance you might find out. If you sit somewhere in the circles, please don't waste your time in searching for hidden wires, you won't find them. Although I have to say it was quite amusing to read in one or two professional reviews. They were sure, they had seen wires, trust me there are none! The secret is.. hushhhhhh, don't  spread it, but yes, Chitty really does fly!

 Thinking back to the Vulgarians, wonder if it was any coincidence, that the inventors all looked quite like the old Albert Einstein ;-), the clothes were partly German, should better say Bavarian style. The houses resembled some German corners as well. Yep you could partly feel at home (at least, if I lived in Bavaria!). But, ok, for the scenes in the movie they used partly castle Neuschwanstein, so I should not be too surprised.  

One of the bits mostly discussed and scolded is one of the bits I love most about the show. And yes Michael is nowhere near at that moment. It's the "Bombie Samba". Just love it. Nichola McAuliffe is such a laugh and the dancers are fabulous! As some people said, there is no reason to have it in the show! No, you are right, it is not necessary for the plot, but it's just so much fun, that I am glad they did not take it out since the beginning of rehearsals. 

What can be said about all the actors despite they were fabulous and I did not see a miscast! Let's start with the leads and Michael. He was fabulous. I had high expectations in him. Many people doubted, if he was really able to get the dancing right, but I knew he would not let us or himself down on this. His dancing was magnificent. His voice was on very top, though of course we all knew before, this would not be a musical, where his voice could shine as much as it deserves. But well, here lay his big chance which he took. He could show off: He is a good actor, he is funny, and he is a really good dancer, all this he demonstrated fabulously. But what might be the most important thing about Chitty and Michael (despite he gets to fly her!): Never in my life, did I see a person who was so much enjoying what he was doing. Michael certainly had a fun time both nights I had seen him, though I am sure, he must have been horribly nervous before the opening night! His joy was just infectious and you had to be very grumpy, if you were not infected.

Emma Williams makes a good Truly. As one of the main points always criticized was her age, I can only say, I never felt she was that young. She did a good job and I certainly did not have anything to complain about. Anton Rodgers was great and so funny.  

The biggest laugh had to be Brian Blessed as Baron Bomburst and Nichola McAuliffe as the Baronness. The leading couple of Vulgaria, established with better German accents than I could ever speak! Nichola was fabulous as the children hating Baroness, that broke down each time she only heard the c-word! Actually, I wonder how she managed to say a word like Apfelstrudel properly. St in Germany is pronounced sht and I could not get it right! Always did the English st version! 

Richard O'Brien as the childcatcher was great. It was so much fun to join into the hissing and booing, when he appeared in his tight black clothes just looking scary. I am just happy I am not a little child any more. I am sure, I would have been so scared of this guy! All together it was just pure fun having so many children in the audience who all joined the fun, LOL or as one just two rows in front of us hide behind her jacket, when the childcatcher entered the stage!  

The rest of the cast is just great. Especially to mention the dancers, who - including Michael during "Ol' Bamboo" - created a fabulous atmosphere. After all, we left the first night in a great mood, dancing (well some of us trying to dance) samba, singing without any connection all the time three to four songs in loose order, when an elderly lady behind me suddenly started a samba routine as well. Yep I think you can say this musical is for all ages, if you want to spend a fun evening.  

The stage door afterwards was rather relaxed. We waited for Michael, but not too long. Sylvi got her photo with Michael and before he left, he was nice enough to pose for a single photo for me!  Our feet were aching, but we still sang our songs and did not care too much about them. We had a great night and the next was to follow  just about 20 hours later. Press Night was approaching.

 Switching on the TV the next morning, we were just right in time for an interview on GMTV with the original Jeremy and Jemima. Yes, we definitely were in the right country. The short time we had were used by showing Sylvia Michael's place of triumph: The Donmar. Great to be back there, well but not the destination for that very night. We ended up at Dress Circle, buying the libretto of Chitty and certainly created many bewildered looks, when we sat down on a bench on Leicester Square trying to sing all the featured songs!

Back at the hotel we prepared for the night. Actually that was really all we were doing then. Did you ever travel in the tube around rush hour dressed up for an opening night? Well, you even get more bewildered looks than sitting, singing on a bench in a park! Anyway, we knew our aim and that was the London Palladium. We arrived just in time to get ourselves a nice place for the line-up of the stars. We were twice close to being interviewed for GMTV I guess. The first time an elderly lady in an old-fashioned dress walked along the barriers and did some interviews, well not with us. Then some minutes later, her colleague came over to us, asking, if we would mind to sing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. LOL, yes we would mind! We were mad Ballettes, but did we have to show it to the whole of the United Kingdom? Anyway, he then wanted to interview us, but the guy at my side, who until then already seemed to have a great time with his friends wondering which big stars were to come offered to sing it and we were forgotten, sob sob sob. So close we were to being famous.

Anyway not too long until the first "stars" arrived. Certainly we were a bit misplaced, as we could not value everyone like they deserved to! I know Chris Tarrant as being the British "Who wants to be a millionaire" presenter. And I know I had heard the name Neal Pearson before, but don't ever believe I could think of where, just when I was told he was there. In the meantime the guy at my side, including his friends outed themselves as the fashion police. I don't think there was any woman who could escape their judgement. We saw many people coming, but unfortunately we left far too soon. Trust me, if it starts at 7 pm, you don't really have to be there in time. We missed the real big stars that were there like Pierce Brosnan with family, Halle Barry. Just a shame, we did not get to see them properly. The show did not start before 7:20 pm. A nice surprise were the seats: The view was much better than anything I did expect!  

Famous people we had the chance to see during the show had been Lord Lloyd Webber (who stayed rather reserved during the whole show, while his son was rather enthusiastic) and Elaine Paige. It was only after the show that we found out, why the people on the other side of the Upper Circles were so eagerly looking down into the stalls. NO miracle. Pierce Brosnan and Halle Barry had to sit there!  

But what can I add about the Press Night? I have never been disappointed with anything. The show was great. The actors were as stunning as the night before. The atmosphere (the main reason I wanted to see this very show) was amazing, mesmerizing. I don't think any of us was disappointed during the show. It was worth the trouble, at least it was for me. Only some over enthusiasm made this time not only Chitty fly over the stage, but the eggs for the breakfast machine as well. The only little thing I saw going wrong, if there was something more, I did not see it! Everyone, especially Michael seemed to be completely motivated. He put even more power into "Ol' Bamboo" than the night before, what made his "No!" after being asked, if he was the inventor with the hair cut machine, even more adorable. It was a great night and a fabulous show that was over too soon. But I have to say the bows at the end were another highlight. When Michael entered the stage we had again standing ovations, the cheering was fantastic and the cast seemed to be well pleased. Chitty took her bow as well and just when we thought, it was over, they would soon leave the stage and we had to head for the stage door, Michael gave a sign and started to speak to us. He thanked the audience for the fabulous ovation and thanked the cast and crew for their work. Then he finally thanked the Sherman Brothers and introduced some members of the Original movie cast. The original Jeremy, Jemima and of course "Truly" Sally Ann Howes entered the stage. As we know now Michael received before the show started a tape with a message from Dick van Dyke. Would be interested what he said there, but well. Nice to see the old cast is still so much involved! Bouquets of flowers were handed to the ladies and just too soon the press night was really over.

 We left for the stage door to meet some friends there and of course to see Michael, though certainly only for a short moment. Just after a few minutes we were greeted by Nikki with the words. Oh did you see Pierce Brosnan? He only just left through this door (hinting at a side door only two grabs away from us). No, thank you! (sob!!!). She did not really improve by saying next: "Oh btw. Cathy already left. See her coming out as one of the first people through the front door." Double thank you (Boooooooooohooooooooooooo!!!). We did our best not to fall into deep depression and to wait eagerly for Michael, now that Cathy was gone. I don't know how long it took. It was very crowded and all the time the children of the show left with their parents, the first actors left including Brian Blessed and Anton Rogers until finally - but with far too less warning Cathy appeared! She must have gone back or whatever. Of course we did not have the chance to take a decent photo or whatever. Just when our cameras were prepared, she already sat in the waiting car. Not much more chance than to see she looked fabulous as always, I think in a black trouser suit! Michael followed just a minute later, dashing to the car, telling us, he really has to leave. And he did, but boy, did he look gorgeous in his dark suit, light blue Shirt and I think a similar tie! Only seconds later Michael left for the opening Night party, while we were left standing there, all there was to do now was going back to the hotel and care for our post Michael depression. From now on, we knew we had to wait more than three months to see him again and all there was left to do, was buying tons of newspapers the next day to get as many reviews about Chitty as possible.  

What's left to say? Over the last months my attitude to Chitty completely changed. I thought it would be boring and well of course I was going to see it, because Michael was the lead, but actually, when booking tickets for two nights during our time in London in July/August I thought was maybe already too much. No, it was NOT! Now I got a complete different problem. I want to see more, but there are no decent tickets available for the time we need tickets.

Even if you think, Chitty is not your cup of tea: Just go and watch it. The show is fantastic the car is amazing and you won't regret it just for one minute. Michael was the only reason, I went to see this show. And I am happy about it. The atmosphere with all the children, hissing when the childcatcher appears, the car and not to forget the whole cast are worth the money! If you have not decided to watch it so far: Go and get your tickets, or you might regret it!

04/09/2004 14:32

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