The Coterie Theatre in Kansas City’s Crown Center delivered the summer blockbuster when they unveiled the Theatre for Young Audiences World Premiere of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” as the finale of their 2014 season, as part of The Coterie’s Lab for New Family Musicals, envisioned and directed by Jeff Church, artistic director.
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” runs through Aug. 3 and features brilliant casting in a musical comedy aimed specifically at young audiences and crafted for the smaller venues. The musical, based on the hit MGM motion picture, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, features the Sherman Brothers’ original music from the film.
The stage version of the musical debuted in London’s West End, but the show was plagued with problems and several delays because of the car that flew in that production. Still, the show ran for more than three years in London and received favorable reviews, audience acceptance and multiple awards.
“Some time ago, I saw the stage musical in London with a car that flew using hydraulics to lift and tilt it. How will we do it? Well, I’m working with designer Alex Espy, who is creating the car from a concept I had for staging the show in an imaginative, new way,” Church said. “This is the first time permission for the musical has been given to try a new way of showcasing the car. We’re very excited to show our audiences, but I’m not giving away any secrets early.”
A later version played on Broadway, but to lesser success than in London, Church said. The audience learned after the play that even the movie caused problems and took almost four years to complete, he said. Church said he had been in conversations with the owners of the piece for several years to convince them to allow him to attempt to pare down the production for smaller stages and create a more theater-friendly version of the live musical production
Hands down, Church’s vision works. Give credit to his vision and study of the show. Give him credit for using a host of Kansas City talent to give life and longevity to his concept.
According to information provided by The Coterie, the show was originally billed as “the most phantasmagorical musical in the history of everything.” The show, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”is a fantastic musical adventure featuring a car that flies and sails.
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” tells the story of eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts who, with the help of his children, Jeremy and Jemima, and Truly Scrumptious, sets about saving a former Grand Prix-winning race car from the scrap heap. Soon, they discover the car has magical properties, including the ability to float and fly. After word spreads about its magical abilities, trouble ensues when the evil Baron Bomburst decides he wants it all to himself, launching Caractacus, Jeremy, Jemima, and Truly on a series of high-flying high jinx to save the miraculous motorcar.
In addition to featuring a full roster of Kansas City’s best local talent, the cast of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” includes The Coterie debut of Broadway veteran Jerry Jay Cranford, who plays the roles of Baron Bomburst and Lord Scrumptious, while also serving as choreographer.
Cranford previously performed featured roles in “Les Miserables” on Broadway and in its national tour. He also performed in the national tours of “Singing in the Rain” and “Anything Goes,” and the European tour of “Evita.”
Other local actors in the cast are Jake Walker (as Caractacus Potts), Stefanie Wienecke (as Truly Scrumptious), Martin Buchanan (as Grandpa Potts), Damian Blake (as Boris the Spy), Bob Linebarger (as Mr. Coggins), Hughston Walkinshaw (as The Childcatcher), Julie Shaw (as Baroness Bomburst), Teddy Trice (as Goran the Spy), Stefanie Stevens (Ensemble), and Andrew Thompson (Ensemble). Additionally, the cast features several young professional actors including Allison Banks (as Jemima Potts) and Lucas Dorrell (as Jeremy Potts), as well as Dakota Hoar, Marshall Hopkins, Malena Marcase, Reagan Danel Ogle, and Callie Rodina in the ensemble.
The artistic and production company includes Jeff Church (director), Anthony T. Edwards (music director), Angleyn Benson (associate musical director), Jerry Jay Cranford (choreographer), Scott Hobart (set designer & technical director), Art Kent (lighting designer), Georgianna Londré Buchanan (costume designer), David Kiehl (sound designer), Trevor Frederiksen (properties designer), Alex Espy (car designer), Erika Bailey (dialect coach), Angleyn Benson (conductor & pianist), Brett Jackson (reed instruments), William J. Christie (production stage manager), Melissa E. Koerner (production assistant & deck manager), Matthew Henrickson (production assistant), and Daphany Edwards (production assistant).
The Coterie’s production engages the younger, ring-side audience from the start as Jake Walker appears in character to introduce himself to the audience and ask the young fry if they have any ideas what he could invent next. Walker captures their attention immediately as he works impromptu on their suggestions, never breaking character no matter how funny or far-fetched their ideas seem. Opening night, he fielded about six or seven ideas and worked the crowd. He was flawless, impassioned, and captivated the children before the show began.
Next, the tandem team of funny bad guys, Damien Blake and Teddy Trice, the hired spies worked their magic on the audience as they appeared, created a lot of slapstick laughs and worked the children to stand up and tell the adults behind them to “Turn off your cell phones.” The audience participation they inspired won the adult audience as well.
Then, the musical began with the younger ensemble playing their summer games and a happy-go-lucky junk yard owner, played by Bob Linebarger, faced with a dilemma to sell the rusted and broken car to a scrap dealer or allow the children a chance to save it.
From the beginning, the characters set the tone and mood for the story to follow. The two children, Allison Banks (as Jemima Potts) and Lucas Dorrell (as Jeremy Potts) flex their acting muscles as the spark plug to save poor Chitty from the scrap heap. Soon, Stefanie Wienecke (as Truly Scrumptious), and Martin Buchanan (as Grandpa Potts) enter the story. The evil child catcher comes to life via Hughston Walkinshaw, with a malicious, scary personification. All that’s left are the evil duo of Cranford and, Julie Shaw (as Baroness Bomburst).
From the start, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” delights the audience as a triple treat of deliciousness, happiness, and dastardly intentions. At no time does the show bog down or seem over-done. The musical numbers are fun. The acting is wonderful. The characters are unique. The costumes stand out as bright and colorful–even the black and white spy costumes. The villains are evil and oh-so-funny. The choreography is sharp and well executed. The dialogue sparkles with simple structures, aimed at younger audiences, but with stunning actors delivering heavy hitting performances. The show races, floats, and flies along at a consistent clip to tell the entirety of the story and music in about 75 minutes. What a wonderful experience for audiences of all ages.
Not enough can be said of the characterizations of the cast. Cranford and Shaw deliver hilarious villain roles. No one can stop laughing at them. Similarly, the spy duo of Blake and Trice elicit laughs at each entrance and exit. Wienecke’s acting equals her beautiful voice and sweetness just exudes each movement. And count on Buchanan to create the most life-like characters, no matter what show or venue he works. He’s wonderful as grandpa.
Walker establishes a character so believable that the audience buys in at his first pre-show appearance. At a reception after the show, the children from the audience lined up to tell him of their invention suggestions. You just don’t get more believable than that for the character to carry on even in his street clothes. Walker’s superb characterization demonstrates his ability to wear his character.
The Coterie produced another winner with “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” Each and every performance deserves a sell out, and the show deserves an extension as well. It’s a winner from the first appearance of Potts through the capture of the villains and the dastardly child-catcher. The show comes with enthusiastic recommendations for all ages from the young to the young at heart.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, originally written as a novel for young adults by James Bond author and creator, Ian Fleming, and was later adapted by Roald Dahl into a quirky but charming script for the hit 1968 MGM motion picture. The film transformed the story into a musical by adding songs written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, composers of several Disney classics including Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, and The Aristocats, among others.
The Coterie’s production will feature many of the original tunes from the movie including “Truly Scrumptious,” “Toot Sweets,” “Hushabye Mountain,” and the Oscar-nominated title song, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
The Coterie, now in its 35th Season and named “One of the Five Best Theaters for Young Audiences in the U.S.” by Time magazine, performs “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” June 17 – Aug, 3, in The Coterie Theatre, located on level one of Crown Center Shops in Kansas City, Mo.
Tickets are $10 for youth under 18, full-time students, and seniors age 60 and older; $15 for adults. Groups of 20 or more: $5.- $6.50 per person. For tickets and more information, call
The Coterie Box Office: (816) 474-6552 or go to the website: www.thecoterie.org