Thursday, December 3, 2015

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Picture courtesy Tacoma Musical Playhouse

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Dec. 3, 2015
Gunnar Ray and Amelia Stiles in back seat, Stephen Bucheit and Allyson Jacobs-Lake in front.  Photo by Kat Dollarhide, courtesy Tacoma Musical Playhouse
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is cute and lighthearted musical comedy. Written by Jeremy Sams and Ray Roderick, with music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, it is based on the movie starring Dick Van Dyke as the eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts (played here by Stephen Bucheit).
The story takes place in 1910, and the turn-of-the-century costumes by Jocelyn Fowler, Margot Webb, and Grace Stone, and period set pieces by Bruce Haasl are wonderful. Kudos to Haasl for the marvelous old car and all its special effects, and for the beautiful backdrop paintings (with help from Master Carpenter Dennis Kurtz).
Potts’s children Jeremy (Gunnar Ray) and Jemima (Amelia Stiles) fall in love with a broken down old racing car and Caractacus — who has invented a machine that makes a candy that you can play like a flute, called “Toots Sweet,” and a haircutting machine that cuts hair with disastrous results —  restores the old car. In the process, he gives it some special powers such as the ability to float on water. It is rumored that it can even fly (audiences will have to wait until the climax of the show to see if it really can).
There is, of course, a love story between Caractacus and a beautiful woman named Truly Scrumptious (Allyson Jacobs-Lake), and some nefarious villains including the evil Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria (John Kelleher) and his wife, Baroness Bomburst (Dana Johnson), a couple of spies, Boris (Michael Syverson) and Goran (Brittany Henderson). These four bad guys plus the terrible Child Catcher (Jake Atwood) provided most of the outlandish humor in the play.
It’s a fun play, but opening night I felt that some cast members were not throwing themselves into their roles with the kind of gusto the roles call for. The lack of oomph, that special extra spark we expect from good actors, was especially noticeable in Bucheit. He plays Caractacus well and sings nicely, but on opening night he did not show the energy I would have hoped. To a lesser degree this is true of Jacobs-Lake, whose singing is truly scrumptious (pun intended). Her singing on the ballad “Lovely, Lonely Man” provides the most touching romantic moment in the play.
The children, Jeremy and Jemima, are excellent, expressive, lively and loveable. Two actors alternate in the role of Jemima, Stiles, whom I saw, shares the role with Summer Mays.
The actors who steal every scene they were in were Kelleher as Baron Bombast and Johnson as the Baroness. They are wonderful, truly owning their roles. The two musical numbers they shine in, “Chu-Chi Face,” a delightfully comic love song to each other, and “The Bombie Samba,” a wild Latin song-and-dance number with the Baron and Baroness backed up by the ensemble, are the comic and musical highlights of the show.
If you are looking for something different by way of theatrical holiday entertainment, this might be just what you’re looking for.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday,  2 p.m. Sunday, 2 p.m. Saturday, , through Dec. 20, $22-$31, Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253-565-6867,

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