They’re more than spectacular! To use the vernacular? They’re wizard! They’re smashing! They’re keen! Why, The Children’s Theatre of Annapolis, of course! And their wonderful, phantasmagorical production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Jr. Directed by Atticus Boidy, with Musical Direction by Trevor Greenfield, and Choreography by Kristin Rigsby, this fun-filled junior version of the iconic movie-turned-stage-musical is fun for families, children of all ages, and of course for those forever young at heart! With talented youngsters who really energize the script with loving heart and talented soul, this production is energetic and stupendous!
Paving the way for a series of sensational performances from these young and talented performers is a stellar production team of hard-working adults who create theatrical magic right before our very eyes. Whether it’s Set Designer Todd Croteau and Set Decorator Allyson Tierney working together to fly in and out the elaborately detailed sceneries of the cog-driven windmill workshop house in which the Potts family takes up residence, or the Properties Team Jill Yamaner and Leslie Rollins (who no doubt work alongside Croteau and Tierney to craft that sensational, driving, floating, flying titular car) the production team is skilled and presents a great deal of wonderment upon the stage for these young performers, authenticating their musical theatre experience. And of course, the costumes, as designed by Natasha Hitchcock and Leslie Rollins! They’re nearly as sensational as the young performers themselves, toeing the line of fantasy and reality, which is the perfect blend of aesthetic for this production.
Musical Director Trevor Greenfield gathers a surprisingly powerful sound out of these youngsters, and the various ensemble numbers are strong and robust. Director Atticus Boidy keeps things moving from to scene so that this junior-version production is swift, helping very young audience members pay attention without getting antsy in their seats! Boidy gives everyone a character, even if they’re also part of the bigger ensemble, like Victoria Santiago-Velez as Marta, Mia Rinehart as Greta, and Emerson Powell as Toby. One of the most magical elements to arise— like the roses of success (from the original movie)— from the production side of things is the intricate choreography of Kristin Rigsby. There are several featured dance routines that really parlay Rigsby’s skill as a choreographer, and more importantly her ability to teach young performers how to move.
Rigsby’s choreography allows ensemble members to find full feature moments in which they can readily display their dancing talents. There are a pair of Lullaby Ballerinas (Malia Segree and Christina Smith) who drift through “Hushabye Mountain” like they are the tendrils of dreams lulling the Potts children off to sleep. There’ half a dozen soldiers (Mac Brabazan, Sydney Broady, Natalie Hosie, Maddox Howard, Maggie McInerney, Justin Porath) who hop in step when dancing around before The Baron & Baroness, which is quite entertaining, given Rigsby’s choice to use some of the smaller and younger performers in this number, to assist with making these two baddy characters look larger than life. Rigsby puts the dancers through their paces when it comes to “Me Ol’ Bamboo”— the number everyone fondly remembers from the movie because Dick Van Dyke improvises his way through a high-kick pole-dance routine— and pays homage to the film here. “Me Ol’ Bamboo” Dancers (Samantha Brenneman, Jetta Earle-Smith, Haven Hitchcock, Emerson Powell, Mia Rinehart, Andy Rollins, Liam O’Toole, Erica Yamaner) high-kick their way through this exuberant and energetic number!
Several of the Bamboo dancers— like Haven Hitchcock who plays the creepy and unforgiving Child Catcher (anyone remember this character from the film? Enough to give you proper nightmares, whether you’re a child or an adult!) and Jetta Earle-Smith who plays the clever but quiet Toymaker— double up roles not only in the ensemble but as cameo supporting characters. Samantha Brenneman’s Junkman is particularly humorous when making fun of poor Chitty and Andy Rollins’ Mr. Coggins is sweet as peach plum pie. Singing, dancing, acting— these young performers have it all, and are very engaged in all that they do on the stage. Of course, while “Me Ol’ Bamboo” is one of the most athletically challenging dance routines in the show, the one that takes the cake— and quite literally stops the show with its thunderous ovation of applause— is “The Bombie Samba.” Rigsby explores actual Samba technique here and features a dozen different dancers, all coupled up and roving around the stage to the music. The Bombie Samba Dancers include, of course The Baron and Baroness, as well as Samantha Brenneman, Cole German, Finn Hintermister (also a hilarious spy!) Natalie Hosie, Maggie McInerney, Taghan McLaughlin (the other hilarious spy!) Ava Lecky (who doubles up as a fine and snotty Miss Phillips in the Candy Factory scene), Ryan McCandless, Sage Shanahan, and Christina Smith. Well done, Bombie Samba Dancers!
Back to the Baron (Liam O’Toole) and The Baroness (Erica Yamaner)! Hilariously goofy and over-the-top baddies, O’Toole and Yamaner have some real stage chemistry going when they start throwing their childish temper-tantrums at one another. Okay, it’s really just The Baron character that throws temper tantrums, but the way Yamaner responds to O’Toole when he throws them is hysterical. The pair are well matched, each trying to outdo the other in these highly comedic roles, and both have glorious voices that really bring vocal clarity, clean pitch and intonation, as well as characterized affectations and accents to their renditions of “Chu-Chi Face” and “The Bombie Samba.” Since Vulgaria is a made-up country, but clearly modeled after an indeterminate location in the former Soviet Union, O’Toole and Yamaner do great jobs creating these fictitious accents for their characters accordingly.
Sage Shanahan does such an exquisite job of stomping about as Lord Scrumptious! While the Lord Scrumptious character isn’t meant to be a baddie, he’s certainly not very pleasant, especially when he dismisses Caractacus Potts early on. In the junior version, we don’t encounter Lord Scrumptious for very long, but Shanahan makes sure we remember the character all the same. Equally as full of guts and gusto as Shanahan’s Lord Scrumptious is the wily Grandpa, played delightfully by Blake Martin. (Both Martin and Shanahan are outfitted for their respective character looks with the assistance of Make-up Designers Michelle Bruno and Kathy Garrity, as well as Hair Artist Tiffany Dean.) While the iconic songs of the movie that those of us old enough (or willing to admit to being old enough) to remember for the Grandpa character don’t make it to the stage version (or at least not the junior version) Martin puts so much punch and pizzazz and panache into his one number, “Them Three”— complete with outrageously over-the-top hard British-esque accent— that you remember him all through the show, even when he’s not on stage.
Living up to the character’s namesake, Mackenzie Currie is vocally Truly Scrumptious! Fitting the bill for the slightly reserved, yet deep-down gentle-hearted, heroine-ingénue of the show, Currie is felicitous in nature, except of course when Truly is being somewhat fussy with Caractacus Potts upon first meeting him. Providing glorious harmonies and strong, dulcet melodies for all of her musical numbers, like “Doll on a Music Box” and her bits of “Truly Scrumptious”, Currie easily wins over the hearts of the audience. Bouncing about with the children, Caractacus Potts, and even Lord Scrumptious all during “Toot Sweets” is one of the more endearing moments where you see Currie’s beautiful smile and hear her strong melodica soprano sound.
Jeremy (Pilot Earle-Smith) and Jemima (Anya Lengbeyer) are precious and precocious. They too have masterfully presented this slightly posh and yet slightly down-market English accent that most adult performers struggle to maintain with clarity and consistency. Both Earle-Smith and Lengbeyer understand harmonies and rhythmic timing, which makes them perfect selections for these leading characters. When they add to their father-character’s trio, “You Two” it’s adorable. So too is the way they gush and ooze all through “Truly Scrumptious.” And your heart skips a beat in fear when they find themselves in peril! Of course Earle-Smith and Lengbeyer are great actors, as the children are never really in any actual danger, but this duo takes you right alongside them every step of the way— from the junkyard to far-off lands, with their infectious giggles and rabid enthusiasm for life.
Madcap inventor Caractacus Potts (Andrew Wilson) is the central figure around which the plot revolves. Trying to live up to the iconic role as placed down by the incomparable Dick Van Dyke is a tall order for any performer, but Wilson holds his own and creates an endearing, caring father figure (despite only being a few years older than his fellow co-stars) and really unfurls the family dynamic for the audience of a devoted father willing to do anything for his children. With a robust voice, clear and clean, Wilson drives numbers like “You Two”, and the titular theme, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” with effervescence. With snappy footwork in joining the Ol’ Bamboo dancers during “Me Ol’ Bamboo”, Wilson doesn’t miss a trick. Singing, dancing, acting, and being all-round amazing, Wilson really owns his moments in the spotlight.
Hurry— grab a flying car if you must— but be sure to catch this spectacular production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Jr. at the Children’s Theatre of Annapolis before it flies away this spring!
Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes with one intermission
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Jr. plays through May 19, 2019 at Children’s Theatre of Annapolis— 1661 Bay Head Road in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, please call the box office at (410) 757-2281 or purchase them online.
Teaghan McLaughlin, Sage Shanahan, malia segree