Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
The Players
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Freak


Ryan Modjeski, A.J. Forsyth, Belle Babcock, and Kaitlynn Barrett
Photo by Cliff Roles
The Players continues its Broadway series with the stage version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, based on the 1968 movie. The film was not all that successful—memories grew fonder with age. The score by Richard and Robert Sherman is not their best work and the stage version, with six new songs, does little to improve upon the original. The musical, with a book by Jeremy Sams, ran over three years in London, then a mere eight months on Broadway. It is a natural for community theater, family friendly with lots of parts for a group of kids, so The Players is offering the area premiere.

A. J. Forsyth plays inventor and father Caractacus Potts. The character is blandly drawn in both the movie and the musical; his strongest relationship is with his children Jeremy and Jemima, here played by Ryan Modjeski and Belle Babcock. They share the song "You Two," which gives Mr. Forsyth the chance to be somewhat charming. Add in Grandpa (Rick Stroup) and the group becomes "Them Three." Later on, love interest Truly Scrumptious, played by Kaitlynn Barrett, comes along and it is dislike at first sight, but of course they get together at the final curtain. Because the relationship is poorly written, it would be almost impossible to show chemistry between them.

The best part of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the assortment of villains who weave in and out of the story, and they get the best of the songs as well. The Baron and Baroness Bomburst, costumed in the most outrageous purple and black, are wonderfully over-played by Timothy Fitzgerald and Debbi White. They liven up the proceedings with "Chu-Chi Face" and "The Bombie Samba." They send two spies to try and get Chitty (the car); Bill Sarazen and Brett Johnson delight with the song "Act English." The kids in the audience at the performance I attended reacted every time these two showed up. Daniel Pelissier, all in black, is menacing as the Childcatcher. Ric Stroup as Grandpa Potts is properly regimental and his song "The Roses of Success" brings out some of the best dancing in the show. Derek Dutcher helps the Potts family reunite at the end as the Toymaker.

Director Berry Ayers tries to keep things as lively as possible, though, as choreographer, he has not been able to get strong dancing from his ensemble cast. Costumes by Kaylene McCaw are the highlight of the production, marvelously colorful and whimsical. Set design by Matt Nitsch is also very effective. The car is excitingly executed and, despite the fact that it does not leave the stage, projections help us believe that it is flying. Lighting design by Tara Foster captures the bright and sunny parts of the story as well as the darker side.

Musical director Rebecca Heintz, on keyboard 1, leads one of the largest musical ensembles I have seen in a community theater in a long time, eight players including herself, and most of them seem to be fairly young but play quite well. They include Christine Bruno on keyboard 2, John Januszewski on drums/percussion, Daniel Rees on clarinet, Meredith Housh on french horn, Brandon Eggert on trumpet, Sabine Wittman on alto saxophone, and Riad Becirevic on bass/percussion 2.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang may not be the most polished show I have seen on a community theater stage, but that didn't stop the Sunday afternoon audience that I attended with from cheering wildly at the end. It makes a great introduction to live theater for young ones.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang through November 15, 2015, at The Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL. Box Office (941) 365-2494. For more information visit www.theplayers.org.

Cast: Caractacus Potts: A.J. Forsyth, Truly Scrumptious: Kaitlynn Barrett, Grandpa Potts: Rick Stroup, Baron Bomburst: Timothy Fitzgerald, Baroness Bomburst: Debbi White, The Child Catcher/Junkman: Daniel Pelissier, The toymaker/Coggins: Derek Dutcher, Jeremy Potts: Ryan Modjeski, Jemima Potts: Belle Babcock, Boris: Bill Sarazen, Goran: Brett Johnson, Lord Scrumptious/Vulgarian: Michael Brown, Ensemble/Turkey Farmer/Inventor: Barbara Bostic, Ensemble/Morris Man/ Inventor: Miriam Roeming-Engle, Adult Ensemble/Morris Man/Vulgarian: Paige Galdieri, Ensemble/Miss Phillips/Morris Man/Inventor: Kay Siebold, Ensemble/Captain/Sid/Vulgarian: Lucinda Schlotterback, Ensemble/Violet/Vulgarian: Grace vitale, Ensemble/Chef/Morris Man/Inventor: Nancy Creighton, Kids Ensemble/Greta: Tori Bates, Kids Ensemble/Toby: Rick Bizzaro, Kids Ensemble/Marta: Riley Bloom, Kids Ensemble: Siobhan Boyle, Kids Ensemble/Singing boy: Ian Burnsworth, Kids Ensemble: Nya Cham bless, Kids Ensemble/Singing Girl: Tori Greenlaw, Kids Ensemble: Anika Pisz, Kids Ensemble/Stephen: Charles Shoemaker, Kids Ensemble/Soldier: Olivia Yagy, Kids Ensemble: Tommy McGuire, Kids Ensemble: Liam McGuire

Orchestra: Musical Director/keyboard 1: Rebecca Heintz
Keyboard 2: Christine Bruno
Drums/Percussion: John Januszewski
Clarinet: Daniel Rees,br>French Horn: meredith Housh
Trumpet: Brandon Eggert
Alto Saxophone: Sabine Wittman
Bass/Percussion 2: Riad Becirevic

Director/Choreographer: Berry Ayers
Musical Director: Rebecca Heintz
Technical Director: Ken Junkins
Lighting Design: Tara Foster,br>AVLE: Seth Berry
Costumes: Kaylene McCaw
Set Design: Matt Nitsch
Stage Manager: Alyssa Goudy

--William S. Oser


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