It didn’t look like much more than an old rusted out car, the kind that gets turned into a yard planter. The wondrous imaginations of a couple of English wipper-snappers, Jemima (Bella Bloxham) and Jeremy Potts (Charlie Cornell), had given the old car a fantastical second life, one separate from the fixer-upper’s routine engine work dealt from their papa’s tools.
Caractacus Potts (Eric Welsh) and his little clan had become fond of the old car while he had it on loan trying to restore it, but its owner was ready to sell it to a scrap yard. The only way to save their metal friend: raise enough shillings to beat the scrapper’s offer.
Like any dad not wanting to let his kids down, Caractacus went into his bag trying to find any way to come up with the money. After barely scraping together enough bars to save the project car from the metal heap, papa Potts finally gets the car running good enough to drive.
It puts, pops and coughs but it runs, fitting its pet name, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, perfectly. Get buckled up because Bombshell Theatre’s adaption of this musical classic takes you on a ride here, there, back again.
Twists and Dishes
Directed by Michael Pocaro, this production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang keeps its audience looking for their seatbelts while several thick subplots merge into one fun and rambling tale. The quest to save Chitty Chitty Bang entangles the town’s candy tycoon’s a daughter Truly Scrumptious (Abby Urban) who’s looking for satisfaction while mingling with commoners and coming of age.
Grandpa Potts (Glen Villa) cannot stop getting into wild global adventures be they in India or Alaska. Even the endearing car itself, in a harrowing moment caused by Mr. Potts’s overconfidence, reveals itself to be a sparkling, magical flying and floating contraption.
At that point, some half-witted foriegn spies Boris and Goran (Becky Cofta and Thom Cauley) and the Barons Bomburst (Madison Nowak and Tim Albrechtson) enter the fray and devise a plan to steal the motorized wonder for themselves. Adding to his long list of life exploits, Grandpa Potts finds himself stuck in a Bulgarian gulag after being mistaken for someone more important, leaving the Potts kids precariously unattended.
The Bulgarian Barons unleash a henchman, the Childcatcher (Marcee Dorherty-Elst), to terrorize Jeremy and Jemima for leverage against the Potts’. In the end, all good is restored as the spies Boris and Goran (Becky Cofta and Thom Cauley) desert their lords, the Bombursts, and side with the English folk. Potts’s tots are recovered and Caractacus, Truly and the kids (and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) live happily ever after.
A Piece for a Period
So much social commentary can be found in theatre and film from the mid-20th century, they nearly read as historical case studies. With issues abound in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, we see vignettes that call out stratification of social classes and soft bigotry between European nationalities. These issues come caked with sugar and whether the most famous production of this musical, adapted to film in 1968 starring Dick Van Dike, intended to air them for public examination or to minimize them is hard to know.
For example, we see places where persistent gender inequities are solidified within the story’s narrative. In particular, the female woman-mother role is conventionally trivialized and devalued. As well, long standing social mythology of the rugged, venerated, and unequivocal Anglo-male father figure underlies the entire play (a phenomenon recently named as ‘dad privilege’). These typical representations endemic to the period when viewed with a present-day lens can receive a more critical treatment.
However, most notably, and laudibly, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang gives humanity to adolescent children. In contemporary times, modern Western societies, including the US, have all but erased the memory and washed its hands of the abhorrent treatment children received in the US until the 1940’s and 1950’s. Thankfully, the rise of Federal regulatory power, over time, put a stop to a lot of US society’s nonsense around labor practices and social status; though we now know more than ever we must defend societal progress.
Send me to Camp
Bombshell Theatre’s production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, performed outdoors at the Rotary Stage in Wauwatosa’s Hart Park, hit all the marks one wants to see in a classic production, inventive staging, energetic, well-versed, in-step and committed performances, and on-time humor!
It featured ample choreographed song and dance routines, fitting of the musical genre, performed by a largely young and well-schooled ensemble (Mike Shebly, Heather Blachowski, Sandra Baker-Renick, Celeste DuPuis, Patrice Hood, Thomas Hess, Zach Rolf, and Meredith Chera), and guest starred by perennial stage favorite and Milwaukee theatre scene powerhouse Marcee Doherty-Elst. In one of these interludes, the play memorably reveals that the undefeated internet pulled a favorite meme-caption catch phrase from the musical’s refrain ‘Team work, makes the dream work’.
Elements of traditional physical theatre also showed up, where modular set pieces can be easily repurposed, moved and played around with absurd props. The abduction of Grandpa Potts stands out, as he’s shown as a toy figurine dangling from a string, whisked away by a model hot air balloon held (flown) by Boris and copilot Goran.
For those who indulged in its run that ended July 2, 2022, the production was incredibly well-done. Put Bombshell Theatre on your list of companies to look out for future productions. Bombshell Theatre’s next show Let Me Entertain You opens August 26, 2022 at Inspiration Studios in West Allis.
Bombshell Theatre’s adaption of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang players included Ellie Wilhem (Greta), Noah Margela (Toby), Isie Woodford (Susan), Ellory Woodford (Emily), Kai Levzow (Stephen), and Kenzy Levzow (Marta).
Production credits go to Tim Albrechtson (Producer), Julia Douglas (Stage Manager), Tracy Garon (Music Director), Kara Ernst-Schalk (Choregraphy), Katie Meylink (Costume Design, Set Design and Prop Master), Instrumental Motion (Sound and Lighting Design), Eric Welch ( mHair and Make-up Design), and Marcee Doherty-Elst (Intimacy Consultant).