Review: Alhambra summer show kicks off with a ‘Bang Bang’

Stage version of ‘60s film features incredible flying car

Steven Spielberg may have been wrong about flying cars being a commodity by 2015, but the Alhambra Theatre & Dining certainly doesn’t seem to have received the memo.

Last week, the dinner theater kicked off the summer season by premiering its family-friendly production of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and to the audience’s amazement, there was indeed a “flying” car.

With music and lyrics by brothers Richard and Robert Sherman and book by Jeremy Sams, the stage production of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is based on the original 1968 motion picture, which was in turn loosely based on the 1964 novel by James Bond creator Ian Fleming. The movie, which starred Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes, was nominated for an Academy Award in the “Best Original Song” category.

Set in early-20th-century England, the “phantasmagorical” musical centers on the family of inventor Caractacus Potts, who finds a way to transform an old race car into a floating, flying machine. Unfortunately, the wondrous car catches the attention of the tyrannical Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria, and suddenly the heroes are swept up in the middle of a nefarious plot culminating in a dangerous rescue attempt.

Although the prop car built by Alhambra staff does not literally fly, it comes awfully close. With the help of advanced machinery and fantastic illusory work, the car and its passengers do in fact soar above the stage, and it is definitely a sight to see.

While, as always, the entire Alhambra cast performed well, the true stars of the show (aside from the car, that is) proved to be youngsters Trey Murphy and Tatum Matthews. The two 9-year-olds were “truly scrumptious” in their respective portrayals of Jeremy and Jemima Potts. Never missing a beat, both Murphy — making his Alhambra debut — and Matthews — boasting previous Alhambra credits in “Annie” and “Show Boat” — impressed all with their clear musical and acting talents.

One other performance of note was that of Pierre Tannous as the Child Catcher. Those who first experienced the film version of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” when they were kids will readily recall the terror instilled in their hearts by Robert Helpmann’s unnerving portrayal of the character. That terror, unsettling as it was, does not even begin to compare with that which Tannous inspires, and I would encourage all fans of the original movie to witness his take on the role.

Rife with catchy tunes, incredible props and kid-friendly fun, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” will run at the Alhambra through July 29. Snatch up tickets while you can.

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