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Theater review: Hale Centre's 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' is clap-along, sing-along amusement fare

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21 2013 11:15 a.m. MST

Caractacus Potts (Ames Bell) drives Truly Scrumptious (Brittany Sanders) in the title character of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Jeremy and Jemima (Will Riches and Olivia Smith-Driggs) travel in the car's trundle seat.

Douglas Carter, DC Snaps

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“CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG,” Hale Centre Theatre, through April 13, $28-$16, 801-984-9000 or halecentretheatre.org

WEST VALLEY CITY — “The curtain is about to rise on the star of our show,” announces the director’s note in the playbill. Agreed that his “leading lady” is a dominant force with a commanding stage presence. But “she,” the title character, is a large prop. A car.

When the virtues of a nonhuman are extolled, don’t anticipate a memorable performance.

I’m not in the target audience of Hale Centre Theatre’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” If this show were a film, it would receive a PG3-7 rating. The show doesn’t work as theater for adults.

The musical does have an admirable pedigree. The story comes from Ian Fleming of 007 fame. The songs are by Richard and Robert Sherman. This is the same songwriting team that penned the charming score to “Mary Poppins.” But that enduring musical was written within a highly structured studio built under Walt Disney’s paternal watchful care. The Sherman brothers were asked to write “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” by a subsidiary of MGM years after the studio’s heyday of musicals. And the creator of James Bond wrote only one children’s book.

But “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” can be seen as bright and breezy clap-along, sing-along fare. There are parents who will have a sit-back evening while their young children are amused.

The creative team shows good intentions, and there are spectacle elements to the staging. Along with the car that is elevated above the rotating stage, there are other large, whimsically designed set pieces. Breakfast is served by a large contraption powered by toy locomotives, and candy is manufactured in a fanciful conveyor belt confectionery apparatus. There are splashes of color from candy-colored bright costumes, cannons burst out smoke rings and confetti is strewn across the stage.

Like the music box in Act 2, director John J. Sweeney winds up the production, and the performers mechanically proceed forward.

The villainous Baroness Bomburst (played by the appealing Brooklynn Pulver) wants to banish children from her kingdom of Vulgaria, and Baron Bomburst (Paul Cartwright) employs henchmen to steal a flying car from Caractacus Potts (Ames Bell). The eccentric inventor has retooled the discarded race car into a magic carpet vehicle to whisk his motherless, apple-cheeked children, Jeremy and Jemima (relaxed and well-played by Will Riches and Olivia Smith-Driggs), and the candy factory heiress Truly Scrumptious (Brittany Sanders) on flights of fancy adventures.

There is a baddie duo of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum nogoodniks, named Goran (Kelly De Haan) and Boris (Adam Dietlein), along with a creepy Childcatcher (Matt Kohler). A vaguely Geppetto-ish Toymaker (Stephen Kerr) and Grandpa Potts (David Weekes) are also in the mix of characters.

As Miss Scrumptious, Sanders is a lovely actress, sings beautifully and creates an endearing character from the paper-thin role. Bell has achieved greater success in other shows, notably as Robert Martin in “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

Pacing is a major problem. The show sputters and putt-putts between songs. There are few dance sequences approaching showstopper achievements, with “Chu Chi Face” coming closest. Check any discriminating evaluation in the lobby.

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