By Mary Boyle
You are likely to be quite familiar with the MGM film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang if you are over the age of 40. Directed by Ken Hughes, Chitty was written by Hughes and the famous children's book author, Roald Dahl, based on a 1964 novel by Ian Flemming. The movie starred Dick Van Dyke, and was brimming with memorable songs written by the amazing Sherman brothers, who have written more motion-picture musical song scores than any other songwriting team in film history, including Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Charlotte's Web, and The Aristocats. Adapted for the Stage by Jeremy Sams, First Stage brings Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Milwaukee to introduce a whole new generation to the magic story of a very special car.
Directed by Jeff Frank, Chitty is a story of the magic of childhood imagination, but also the very real magic of love. Jeremy and Jemima Potts (double cast as Jack Trettin/Seth Hoffman and Paige Landrum/Michalene McQuide) spend their summer playing in a beloved old car in the nearby junk yard, but when a scrapper wants to buy it, the junk yard owner gives the children a chance to purchase it first. Through an amazing bit of luck, their struggling inventor father, Caractacus Potts (Jackson Evans), comes up with the necessary funds to make the purchase. After a bit of tinkering, Chitty is unveiled, and the family discovers she is more than she seems! Unbeknownst to them, the rulers of Vulgaria are also after the car, and they send their spies, Goran (Nathan Wesselowski) and Boris (Sara Zientek), who mistakenly kidnap Grandpa Potts (Robert Spencer). Now, Caractacus, Jeremy, Jemima, and Truly Scrumptious (Malkia Stampley -- last seen with First Stage in Welcome to Bronzeville) must save Grandpa while avoiding the Child Catcher (Teddy Warren) and the Baron (Drew Brhel) and Baroness (Elyse Edelman) of Vulgaria. Luckily, they have the help of a Vulgarian toy maker (Rick Pendzich) and the children of Vulgaria on their side.
Wonderful costume design by Lyndsey Kuhlmann, and scenic design by Martin McClendon, really transports the audience to early 1900's England. With a cast full of Milwaukee favorites, live piano music by music director Paul Helm, and fantastic choreography by the duo of Milwaukee Ballet's Michael Pink and his wife, Jayne, Chitty is a delightful, magical time for audience members of all ages. Well done, First Stage!
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs through November 5th at the Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water St. in Milwaukee. Tickets are available in person at the Marcus Center box office at 929 N. Water Street, by phone at (414) 273-7206, or online at www.firststage.org.
About First Stage
First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds, and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten, and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves over 2,100 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote literacy, character building, and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012), and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Eureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education, and the arts for its Next Steps program for students with autism (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Theatre Wisconsin, Milwaukee Arts Partners, and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).