DUAL CRITICS REVIEW: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Alhambra Theatre & Dining

Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre opened the Florida premiere of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” a production offering a fun time for children of all ages and a trip down memory lane for many adults, especially those who remember the 1968 movie of the same name which starred Dick Van Dyke. The matinee the Dual Critics attended was packed.

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The story is based on a children’s book written for the young son of Ian Fleming, who is better known as the creator of superspy James Bond. How did the novel get its name? “Chitty Chitty” is reportedly based on Fleming’s friendship with an engineer named Chitty and he added “Bang Bang” as an allusion to the noises made by his automobiles.

The stage musical, with music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, opened in London in 2002 and was wildly popular for three years. The production featured a flying car, and made the Guinness Book of World Records for using the most costly prop (700 thousand British pounds, almost a million American dollars) in musical theatre history.

And yes, the Alhambra has a car!!! Yes, it is magnificent and flies, and was designed and built by Ian Black, one of Alhambra’s Scene Designers. And the cost? The Alhambra has not revealed that but you can bet they will recoup some of the expense through rentals to other theatres that want to produce the show.

Producer/ Director Tod Booth confidently and sensitively steered his splendid cast of twenty-four to a performance filled with warmth and charm.

The story is set in England and opens when Caractacus Potts, an inventor of mechanical devices with limited uses, decides to reconstruct a wrecked car for his children. Potts is portrayed by Shain Stroff, who has appeared in or contributed to many past Alhambra productions; he is a professional actor, choreographer, and stage manager. He sings and dances marvelously as do his character’s two talented children; Tatum Matthews appears as Jemima, Trey Murphy as brother Jeremy.

Jacksonville native, Jennifer Medure, is Truly Scrumptious (and she really is!!!) who falls in love with the inventor and his children. Rounding out the family is Grandpa Potts, portrayed with a stiff upper lip by Ken Uibel dressed in a British khaki military uniform. If you are an Alhambra regular, you will have seen Uibel in several roles, most notably as the ghosts in “Christmas Carole”

The production’s relentless razzle-dazzle is combined with outrageous comedy throughout. Nowhere is this more evident than in the over-the-top performances of Baroness Bomburst (Lisa Valdini), the ruler of Vulgaria who hates children and her husband Baron (Kurt McCall), who loves toys and cars and wants to steal Potts’ car to race in Europe’s Grand Prix. This pair will have you in stitches with laughter.

Doris (Rachel Anton) and Goran (Joshua McKinney) appear as Vulgarian spies dressed in black, who are assigned to steal Potts’ magical car. Three additional actors round out the featured roles. Travis Gerald Young appears in multiple roles that include a toy maker, farmer, and inventor, Mikey Reichert appears as an inventor, and Pierre Tannous portrays the Child Catcher, the most frightening figure.

Choreographer James Kinney’s inspired dances are well-performed by an ensemble that includes Michelle Pettrucci, Victoria Miller, Hugh E Moreno, A.J.Cola, and Nicole Spencer.

A Children’s Chorus directed by Musical Director Cathy Murphy Giddens included Jon Ashton Reid, Jillian McKinney, Liza Kemna, Jude Kennedy, and Sophia Goral. The young performers have outstanding voices and are building impressive resumes as singers on our local stages.

The colorful exciting costumes by The Costume Crew (Camala Pitts & Dorinda Quiles) capture the flamboyance of this fantasy-based show.

Warning: The title song is “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” which is heard more than once. The rhythm is addictive and if you see this show, you will likely find yourself singing the song all the way home. Tickets are selling quickly, so call 904-641-1212 or visit alhambrajax.com for reservations.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.