When Broadway stars leave their iconic roles, replacing them may seem daunting, even if few of us ever saw Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, Mary Martin as Maria Von Trapp, or Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton.
But when a musical performance is captured on film, available for generations of fans to watch endlessly, overcoming the specter of the original cast can be a hurdle.
Such is the case with the classic 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, starring TV legend Dick Van Dyke (just four years removed from his role in Mary Poppins) and Sally Ann Howes as his love interest Truly Scrumptious. Even the perfectly adorable tots and dance star Robert Helpmann as the Child Catcher have left an indelible mark on the story for more than 50 years.
But leave it to the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre and our area talent pool to steer this production in a direction that makes its own mark
The young cast members — notably Conner Johnson as Caractacus Potts and Cassandra Petrie as Truly Scrumptious — are charismatic and have the voices to pull off some truly lovely musical numbers. The Potts youngsters, played by Renae Rogers and Brenner Newson, also fill their roles admirably.
However, comic performances really take center stage with Matt Faley as Grandpa Potts and Isaac Lengacher and Kristen Holt as Vulgarians Boris and Goran providing many laughs amidst the adventure.
Stealing every scene they’re in are Paul R. Faulkner and Bobbi Jo Carroll as the Baron and Baroness Bomburst, roles far more hilarious in the stage show than the film. Their comedic timing, not to mention their performance of “Chu Chi Face,” is perfection.
Director Doug King’s choreography deserves special notice with the scenes featuring “Toot Sweets,” “Me Ol’ Bamboo,” and “The Bombie Samba” nailing each move. The cast was particularly agile, especially those in the “Me Ol’ Bamboo” number, memorable from the film as a vehicle for Van Dyke’s dance talents, tapping into his performance from Mary Poppins.
The musical numbers are perfectly executed and delightful for audience members of any age.
Youngsters will delight in the show, but be forewarned that a few flashpots do startle, and the Child Catcher is still super creepy, though not as nightmare inducing as Helpmann, whose film performance continues to traumatize people who are well past the age for such concerns.
Worth special mention are the props, some of which were brought in from Kalamazoo Civic Theatre in Michigan. No production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang would be satisfying if the car itself isn’t up to par, but this vehicle is spectacular by any measure. Without spoiling anything, whatever question one might have about the car can be answered with a simple “yes.”
For more information than that, one would need to see this stellar performance from the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre.
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March 21 • The Clyde