Article by Sabrina Basilio / Photos by Waldo Katigbak
The theater that successfully brought to us a long list of family favorites like The Sound of Music, The King and I, Cinderella, and Annie now returns with the brave choice of a British fantasy adventure classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a musical that has never been staged in the country before.
The popular 1968 film starring Dick Van Dyke was written by Ken Hughes and Willy Wonka-creator Roald Dahl, and has music by the Sherman brothers, the men behind Disney musicals like Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book. Above all of that, of course, is the flying car, another testament to theater magic waiting to join Miss Saigon’s helicopter and The Phantom of the Opera’s falling chandelier.
The musical version also teems with promises of humor, suspense, love, and lighthearted music tapping into our imagination and opening what director Jamie del Mundo calls “windows to unlocking a brand new world”. “The magic of the theatre,” says del Mundo, offers us this world in a society where children have been ‘jaded’ by a dominantly virtual environment of iPads and YouTube.”
Taking on this challenge and the dangers of staging an unfamiliar foreign musical is none other than Full House Theater Company, Ultimate Shows, Inc. and Resorts World Manila, who have assembled a group of proficient musical theater artists from the cast to the creative team, showcasing once again a thriving industry of Filipino theatrical talent.
Jeremy Potts (Albert Silos) and Jemima Potts (Isabeli Araneta Elizalde) pretend to drive an old race car with their widowed father Caractacus Potts (Gian Madgandal)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang gleams with pride with its all-Filipino line-up of talented performers: Gian Magdangal back from his Hongkong Disneyland stints as Caractacus Potts; two-time Aliw Award nominee Yanah Laurel as Truly Scrumptious; Noel Comia Jr. alternating with Albert Silos as Jeremy Potts; and Isabeli Araneta-Elizalde alternating the role of Jemima Potts with Zoey Alvarade.
Also worth mentioning are Mako Alonso and Reb Atadero as the Vulgarian spies Boris and Goran; Raymund Concepcion as the Baron with Assistant Director Menchu Launchengco-Yulo as his Baroness; James Paolleli as Grandpa Potts, and Lorenz Martinez as the – dare I say – underutilized Childcatcher.
Artistic director and Grandpa Potts-alternate Michael Stuart Williams leads a fantastic team of designers, including Rodel Colmenar conducting the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra for the music.
While the premise of a 1910 British story about a flying car may be deemed ambitious for the Philippine stage, it emerges victorious as a good old-fashioned musical that wears its heart on its sleeve with themes of family, friendship, and teamwork.
It follows the tale of eccentric and struggling inventor Caractacus Potts who, with the help of his children Jeremy and Jemima, embark on a journey to reclaim and restore an old rundown race car that they eventually discover can fly and float on water.
Chitty takes us on an exciting ride with the Potts family, including equally peculiar Grandpa Potts and the high-born beauty Truly Scrumptious as they evade the schemes of their pursuers: the delightfully wicked and over-the-top Baron and Baroness of Vulgaria.
Even for those who have not seen the movie and are unfamiliar with the soundtrack, Chitty’s lasting magic largely comes from its joyful and infectious score. As the chase gets wilder and romance blossoms, the songs also oscillate between tender moments like “Hushabye Mountain” to the larger and bolder numbers like “Toot Sweets” and “Teamwork.”
Gian Magdangal and the ensemble of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang performing “Me Ol’ Bamboo”
In some numbers, Nancy Crowe’s exhilarating choreography does not leave a bare spot on the stage. Other songs like “Truly Scrumptious” delight in its cheerful bob-your-head-with-us simplicity.
Among the production’s many noteworthy performances is that of the villain duo Boris and Goran, occasionally stealing the show with their hilarious blunders as inadequate spies for the Baron and Baroness of Vulgaria.
You’re in for a surprise from these two come intermission.
SET AND COSTUME DESIGN
If you think it can’t get any better, the creative team behind the production’s set and costumes even furthers Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s charm.
The thoughtfulness behind all the visual elements on stage manifests in the thematic assemblage of colors on stage. Bonsai Cielo’s design that takes inspiration from late Edwardian fashion enriches characterization both spatially and temporally. The incredible prosthetics and steampunk outfit of Childcatcher demands attention and evokes fear, while the patterned purples of the Baron and Baroness suggest both power and playfulness.
The set is another star of the show. The entire theater braces itself every time something revolves, glides, or disappears behind a curtain, which one can argue captures, liberates, and expands the vital energies on stage. Scenic designer Mio Infante transports from scene to scene like magic with the help of Jon-jon Villareal’s creative lighting design.
Truly Scrumptious (Laurel) and Caractacus Potts (Magdangal) celebrate his new invention “Toot Sweets” at the Scrumptious Sweet Factory
Chitty may not be a top choice for the theatergoer who wants to sing along to a familiar tune (especially for the younger generation), but the amount of heart the cast and crew puts into this production guarantees a fresh and joyful theater experience, if not one that fondly recalls happy childhood memories.
This fantasmagorical play is NOT to be missed!
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang runs until November 12 at the Newport Performing Arts Theater of Resorts World Manila. It is recommended for all ages.