Chitty Chitty Bang Bang...
Last night we went to see the first preview of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the London Palladium. And what a happy time we spent.
We were running a little late to the show as the the Victoria line was a bit screwed up. That meant we were getting a bit stressed as we sat on the train while the minutes ticked by and we calculated and recalculated how long it would take us to run from tube platform to Royal Circle row L. But as we turned the corner with a brisk walk we were soon skipping. Seeing the the Palladium made all that stress melt away. Just the sight of that huge shiny car hanging outside made us squeal with delight. We knew we were in for something special. We just knew it.
The foyer was a mass of reds and yellows and there was a sense of expectation hanging in the air (as Abba would say). Everyone was excited about seeing the show. You could see it in their eyes. Later on most of the front of house people crept into the back of the auditorium to watch too. No sooner had we taken our seats then the overture started with the opening bars of the Chitty theme. Immediately I was transported back to my childhood experiencing the thrill of watching what was for me one of the best children's musicals ever. That warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia was an almost physical sensation. It almost tingled.
Act 1 followed the plot to Ian Fleming's book/ Roald Dahl's film pretty closely (car racing rivalry between Britain and Vulgar (read Germany) leads to espionage, kidnap and shameless jingoism). All the key scenes were there with equal measures of drama, comedy and those big, big musical production numbers. Toot Sweets was a sensational spectacle of dance, colour and music.Chitty Chitty Bang Bang a racing gallop that had the audience wanting to jump to their feet. Truly Scrumptious had everyone singing along. Hushabye Mountain was genuinely moving (ok, ok, I admit it, I had a tear in my eye). But the real show stopper was Me Ol' Bamboo. People were calling for encores which I think took the cast a bit by surprise. We expected a few technical hitches and indeed there were some (fluffed lines, inventions that didn't quite work the way they should). Especially amusing was when the Toot Sweet is supposed to toot for the first time and but it didn't. The cast went into some really funny ad libs that somehow endeared us even more to the show.
The interval cames after 90 minutes. And after all that stamping of our feet, singing along and laughing we were in need of a glass of wine or two. I immediately phoned Roger and gushed like a babbling buffoon about how fantastic the show was and how he should come and see it immediately. Poor man. He was probably pleased when I hung up when the bell rang for Act 2.
The second act was a lot shorter than the first. All the classics were there though: The Roses Of Success, Chu-Chi Face and Doll On A Music Box/Truly Scrumptious along with four new songs too. The childcatcher (Richard O'Brian) got to sing a new one called Kiddy-Widdy-Winkies in a suitably menacing style as he stalked about the stage like a wading bird trying to not get his feet caught in the weeds. Caractacus Potts (Michael Ball), Grandpa Potts (Anton Rogers) and Truly Scrumptious (Emma Williams) were excellent throughout the whole performance. But real show stealers were the Baron (Brian Blessed) and Baroness (Nichola McAuliffe). They got to be funny, threatening and camp all at the same time. At no better time than in another new over the top glitzy number called The Bombie Samba.
The finale itself was just amazing. The car (which was the star of the show after all) literally flew round the auditorium. People were on their feet cheering and clapping and singing and laughing.
Whether is was the "most fantasmagorical stage musical in the history of everything!" is perhaps open to debate. But for me it was the best musical I have seen on the London stage. It's as simple as that.