‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ at The Alliance Theatre

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A heartfelt story of family loyalty and triumph, The Alliance Theatre’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, directed by Elaine Wilson, starts as the tale of a loving father who tries his hardest to make his children happy and then transforms into a fantastical adventure as he and his kids must help to rescue his father from the evil Baron and Baroness of Vulgaria, with the help of a floating and flying car that he himself invented.

Rich Amada (Potts) and McKensey Struzik. Photo by Maggie Swan.
Rich Amada (Caractacus Potts) and McKensey Struzik (Truly Scrumptious). Photo by Maggie Swan.

Fun for the whole family, this production is wonderfully put together. It has a huge ensemble, mostly made up of children, which sings beautifully and is meticulously choreographed.

Choreographer Annie Bradley Ermlick did a fantastic job of making every scene exciting and engaging. The almost constant dancing ensures that there is never a dull moment during the show. This is best exemplified during the musical number “Bombie Samba” when, suddenly, the ensemble breaks out into groovy salsa-style dancing. It’s unexpected, yet superb.

Wilson and Ermlick did a fantastic job of making use of the space at the venue. Not only were members of the ensemble always dancing and moving around the stage, but sometimes they were on both sides of the audience as well, entering, exiting or just singing and dancing right next to us. It was very fun!

The main character, Caractacus Potts, the inventor and father of the children, was played by Rich Amada. Amada was solid as the lead of this production. His voice was great and his acting was superb. He was believable as both the goofy, confused failing inventor of the first act, and the assertive unifier he must become to defeat the Vulgar baron and baroness.

The baron was played by Joey Olson, who was wickedly funny and he and Cat Arnold, who played the baroness, worked very well together. Sporting ridiculous eastern-European style accents, the two bickered and exchanged sweet nothings with a great sense of romanticism and exaggeration. It was insanely fun. Often, their mannerisms and actions were goofy and fun while their dialogue was witty and clever which made them perfect characters for this musical for the whole family.

Also exemplifying this sense of outward goofy humor, fit for children, and fit for the parents, were the Vulgar spies, Boris and Goran. Played by Mike Cash and Spencer Boyd respectively, these characters were the highlight of the production. They provided amazing comic relief during the slower first act and didn’t stop the laughs during the second. Their stellar performances were highlighted by the musical number Act English in which their bizarre accents and extravagant mannerisms first truly came to light. Furthermore, towards the end of the production, Cash came back on stage dressed as a woman, and his costume was stellar.

Sabrina Chandler’s costumes greatly contributed to the engaging and fun of this production. Meticulously choreographed, the dancing during the musical numbers was fun and captivating, and the costumes just added some extra eye-popping joy. Many of the musical numbers, particularly “Toot Sweets” and “Bombie Samba” were so fantastic because of the sense of cohesion that the costumes brought. Additionally, the costume for the dreaded child-catcher (to be feared by any children) really captured her purely evil persona.

Also adding to the dazzling feel of some of the musical numbers was the lighting. Lighting Designer Billy Ermlick used the lights at Chantilly High School stage brilliantly. Often, colors denoted emotions as the court of the baron and baroness had a distinctly red, evil feel and the candy shop had a distinctly candy-colored feel. Though this was most obviously exemplified by the intricate costumes, the lighting was also tantamount to it.

Additionally, a projector was used to create background scenes of sewers and the great seal of the Vulgar court. This was an ingenious way of making the production much more interesting and engaging from a lighting perspective. This was best exemplified during the storm when the projector made it seem like rain was actually falling on the characters. It worked incredibly well.

Potts’ children, Jeremy and Jemima, were played by Steven Labovitch and Lourdes Navarro respectively and both were fantastic. Their loving relationship with their father, Amada, seemed natural and cute and when the three sang together, particularly in the songs “You Two” and the famous theme song, :”Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” their voices seemed like a natural fit, harmonizing effortlessly.

Also a surrogate member of the family was Truly Scrumptious, played by McKensey Struzik. Struzik’s voice was stellar, rising above all others in the production. It was best shown during her musical number “Lovely, Lonely Man” where she was beautifully emotive.

The orchestra, conducted by Glenn Cockrell, was also stellar. With some nifty fun flute playing by Caitlin Oliver and some equally interesting piano riffs by Henry Hutchinson, along with an entire ensemble including drums (Eric Sennet), Trumpets (Nick Serbu and Ryne Siesky), Clarinet (Jessica Hiemstra), Bass (Aaron Mynes), Oboe (Rachel Tippett), French Horn (Jim Dunstan), and Trombone (Ryan Doherty), the band kept the production upbeat and appealing. I only wish that sometimes they had been a little softer because during a few musical numbers, in particular towards the beginning, they were drowning out some of the singers.

Joey Olson (Baron) and Cat Arnold (Baroness). Photo by Maggie Swan.
Joey Olson (Baron) and Cat Arnold (Baroness). Photo by Maggie Swan.

The Alliance Theatre’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a great musical production that really is fun for the whole family. The entire production really shows the benefits of weaving together fantastic visual elements in costumes, lighting, and choreography with fantastic audio elements. This makes it incredibly engaging, especially the brilliant second act. So come and bring your kids to it but understand that it’s not just a musical  for them – adults will have tons of fun too!

Running Time: Two and a half hours, including a 15-minute intermission.   

PrintChitty Chitty Bang Bang plays through August 2, 2015 at The Alliance Theatre performing at Chantilly High School – 4201 Springfellow Road, in Chantilly, VA. Tickets can be purchased at the door, or online.

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