Caractacus Potts is a widowed eccentric inventor trying to do his best for his two children, Jeremy and Jemima. When the trio decide to renovate an old car, they discover it has magical properties. Ladies and gentlemen, the car flies!
In keeping with the magic of theater, the car does, indeed, fly during Beaumont Community Players’ production of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” which opens May 6. The musical is a colorful, whimsical free-for-all with rousing songs and fantastical situations.
The production was originally planned for the 2020 season, but the COVID-19 lockdown grounded the show. Director Lindsay Downs was originally going to be the music director but has stepped up to direct her first show.
“This (play) is one I’ve been familiar with since childhood. So, it sparks a lot of childhood memories,” she said. “I have kids of my own and it was just all kind of perfect. I thought it would be really fun to be able to be creative and see the whole vision come to life from a big picture.”
The show has elements of silliness, but there’s a logic to it, Downs said.
“This is basically an eight-year-old boy’s imagination and that adds humor to the things that don’t really make sense,” she said.
The plot revolves around the efforts of Baron Bombast (Weston Hodge) to steal the car from Potts, played by Zach Belknap, Jeremy (Case Pampolina), Jemima (Ireland Mayfield) and Truly Scrumptious (Krystal Smith Sanchez), whose father owns a sweet factory. Along the way, a cast of whacky characters propel the fast-paced action.
The original story on which the musical is based was written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming for his son. A 1968 movie, co-written by Roald Dahl, starred Dick Van Dyke. Among the best-known songs, are the title track, “Me Ol’ Bamboo,” “The Roses of Success” and “Chu-Chi Face.”
“At the heart of it, it’s about family,” Belknap said. “It’s about a dad and two kids. He wants to give them everything that they desire, even though he’s just an inventor and he doesn’t have a lot to give them. He does his absolute best to give them the world.”
When Jeremy and Jemima plead for Potts to restore the car they found, it makes him feel like he’s accomplished something and validates all the hard work that he’s put into raising these two kids, Belknap said.
“It’s about this dad and his two kids, and finding love again after their mom had died,” he said. “All of that wrapped into a family musical with a lot of heart.”
There are 10 children among the cast, and Downs said their enthusiasm has spread to the adults.
“I think it’s the spontaneity that kids bring to it, because it just has us all cracking up. We’re all impressed,” she said. “I’ve tried to teach the kids a couple of things and they started singing it before I could even teach it to them. They’re just fabulous.”
With many actors singing and dancing, there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to directing a musical — literally, in this case. Downs said Potts’ inventions are an important part of the story.
Tom Shirley has been hard at work inventing Potts’ elaborate inventions. He said he read the script to see what the machines are supposed to do, then researched what other people have done — “both good and bad,” he said.
A lot of hours of trial and error went into the creations.
“The haircut machine and the breakfast machine were not that bad,” he said. “The haircut machine probably has 10 to 15 hours in it. The breakfast machine’s probably got about 30 hours. But the car — a few thousand.”
Constructing the car, called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang because of its distinctive engine noise, was different from Shirley’s usual theatrical sets pieces.
“It is dramatically different from anything else that we build for the stage, because when it’s just sitting on the ground, you have support all the way down the length of whatever you’re building,” he said. “Here, because it’s only being lifted from the back end, it’s actually built like a true automobile. Its three-by-five steel tubing is similar to my truck chassis.
“The lift is actually on the back three feet of a 13-foot-long car. So, the other 10 feet are hanging out front. You’ve got to have the strength to support all that stuff out front, including four people.”
Shirley said he thinks people will be impressed.
“It flew (during rehearsal) with people in it about the same weight as the actors, and it impressed me — and I’m the one who was planning it,” he said, laughing.
Downs said the musical is entertaining and fun.
“The kids are delighted, and that makes you just delighted to watch them,” she said. “I feel like all the adults are the same way, we all feel like we’re driving pretend cars and making breakfast in a machine.
“I think that what I realized is, we cannot take this one too seriously. So, lean into just the playfulness and fun of it. That’s going to be what makes it successful.”
Showtimes for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” are May 6, 7, 13, 14, 19, 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m., and May 14 at 2 p.m.
BCP is located at 4155 Laurel Ave. in Beaumont. For tickets, visit http://www.beaumontstages.com.
This story first ran in the April 22, 2022 Art of Living section of The Beaumont Enterprise.