Reviews: 'Chitty,' Patti, etc.

April 29, 2009
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A few quick reviews that couldn't fit into the print IBJ:

--If you liked the chandelier in "Phantom of the Opera," and the helicopter in "Miss Saigon," you may love the title car in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," which is parked at Clowes Hall for a week while on its national tour. The car is as shiny and magical as you might remember and its flying could make Mary Martin jealous.

Unfortunately, the car does not sing and it doesn't dance. It doesn't spout laugh lines and it doesn't pull on the emotions. It's a prop in a musical -- a tired musical whose book seems to be written by people who don't care about coherence. It's a prop in a show whose choreography is uninspired and whose touring cast offers paint-by-numbers performances (the couple playing the royal Vulgarians are particularly unwatchable -- and given two second act numbers). It's a prop in a show whose sound technicians seem to care little about the words actually being heard.

If you have fondness for the original film, I'm guessing it's because of the car itself, for Dick Van Dyke's performance, and/or because some of the songs are still lodged in your brain. To be sure, some of those Sherman Brothers tunes are fine -- the sweet "Hushabye Mountain," to name one -- but nobody half as charming as Van Dyke is anywhere to be seen.

So what's left is the very cool car that couldn't keep the Broadway production from tanking, losing its entire $15 million investment. And the NYC version at least had such notable as Raul Esparza, Philip Bosco, Chip Zien and Marc Kudisch in the cast. What we've been given is a first rate vehicle in a third rate vehicle. In this "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," the car is the only thing that soars.

--Last Friday, Clowes Hall hosted a one-night only performance by Patti LuPone, whose "Coulda Woulda Shoulda" show focused on songs from shows she never actually performed in. The fun format didn't keep her from delivering showstoppers from shows she did do--including "Gypsy" and "Evita"-- but much of the pleaure came from the unexpected choices and the very funny stories they came with.

I had the pleasure of offering a pre-show talk on LuPone's career before the show, which would have made it all the more frustrating had LuPone failed to deliver or coasted through the evening. But there was no sign of compromise here. A solid pro, LuPone was in stellar voice, clear as a bell, and made me regret even more having found excuses year after year not to see this one-of-a-kind talent before, if not on Broadway than at her usual summer stint at Ravinia in Chicago. (For info on this August's gig, click here.) Here was a well-earned standing ovation.

--Also last weekend, the Cabaret at the Connoisseur Room brought to town David Burnham, who recently played boy lead Fiyero in the New York company of "Wicked," and helped lead the cast of "The Light in the Piazza" at Lincoln Center. As I've mentioned previously, this new format for America Cabaret Theatre is going to live or die based on the trust that audiences develop for the company in selecting talent. And once again, the choice was a solid one.

Burnham soared in songs from the above shows, creatively pairing his "Wicked" tune with "If I Only Had a Brain. He breathed new life into the "Hello Dolly!" standard "It Only Takes a Moment," effectively pulled off the bait-and-switch novelty tune "I Think About Sex," roused the already up crowd with his take on the Sinatra classic "That's Life," and offered a lovely "Younger Than Springtime" (turning things over to personable pianist Christopher Denny for some hilarious background on that song). In lesser hands, Burnham's habit of holding notes after Denny played his last note would seem showboating. The charming Burnham just seemed to be having a good time, unafraid to show off his gifts.

Only at the end of the show did the song selection begin to wobble. It would be harsh to call his "Music of the Night" pandering, but it felt more like an audition than a heartfelt choice. Tears were wrung -- from performer and audience -- with the David Phelps' song "Fly Again," but Burnham's sincerity couldn't mask the maudlin lyrics and arrangement. And I'm still baffled by why so many cabaret singers seem to gravitate toward the overwritten John Bucchino song "Grateful." But these were minor issues with an otherwise winning set.

Next up for the Cabaret, Lee Lessack with a program of Johnny Mercer music on May 15-16. Info here.

So did you catch any of the above? Your thoughts?
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  • Didn't see Chitty . . . . Saw Patti and her voice was great, but didn't like the way she rushed through songs, especially in the first act. I love Meadowlark - and she sang it as if a cab was waiting for her with the meter running. Looking foward to hearing Liz Callaway sing it at the new ACT in June. Speaking of ACT - saw David Burnham on Sat night. A wonderful performance and the room is a perfect setting for cabaret.
  • I second your opinion on Chitty. What a painful evening! On the way home, the first thing mom and I talked about was how the car was highlight of the show, but paled in comparison to other effects. Like you, we compared it to the helicopter and chandelier. She pointed out that the more impressive effect was the use of lighting and backwards moving counterpoints to simulate movement in the same way as the bridge in the Javert's suicide scene in Les Miz. The rest of the evening was a complete washout for me.

    Regarding Patti, I skipped her show this time around. Her show in Seattle was so disappointing that half the audience walked out at intermission. I just couldn't bring myself to spend more money to feed her ego. Maybe she was having a bad night because it was the end of the tour, but to me, she just isn't as impressive as she thinks she is.
  • Jeff,
    I agree with the speed-reading of Meadowlark. LuPone seemed bored with the song--but she sounded that way on her Live album many years ago as well. I don't think it pleases people who love the song or people who haven't heard it. Time to retire it. Callaway often sings it and I expect a delivery that is a bit calmer and clearer.
    Lou
  • It's Grateful, not Greatful by the way.

    And so many people do it because it is a joy to sing.
  • Jeffrey,
    I just wish it were more of a joy to hear.
    Thanks for the spelling correction. It's been entered.
    Lou
  • This is the problem with buying the series to the Broadway shows. We've been doing it for years and have great seats. Unfortunately, mixed in with some wonderful productions have been some very painful plays - our metric for awful is Civil War. We have Sunday night tiks for *hitty *hitty Bang Bang. I'll let you know if we have a new standard for awful.
  • A Ball,
    Missed Civil War, but I did suffer through the Michael York Camelot, the Hayley Mills' King and I, and the Ann-Margret Best Little Whorehouse.
    --Lou
  • POOP! A Ball took half my line. I suffered through $hxtty $hxtty Gang Bang tonight and I felt the audience were the unfortunate receivers. Lou how right you are that you could not understand a word of the ensemble and they bought that sound package WITH THEM. All those extra speakers on the sides and the speakers in the back of the house for the SFX? How about a little vocal fill folks? The prologuian choralle at the top of the show might have had clever new lyrics to the Chitty Chitty tune but (although shouting) the ensemble could not be understood over the entirely TOO LOUD orchestra! The kids were the only consistent British dialect in the entire show. Why on earth bother having Caractacus Potts (the VanDyke role) speak in dialect when we already expect him not to? Oh... ohhhhhhh... the character roles Lionel Jeffries (the father from the film version who was actually YOUNGER than VanDyke) was kicking up a rumpus in his grave tonight. Dick Decareu and his not so good George Rose impersonation was beaten down by bad direction and staging even if he did have the chops to overcome it.

    But the blame really lies with Jeremy Sams and Ray Roderick the 2 that adapted this wonderful flim into what seemed like they put 2 parts cheese and 2 parts vegas to one part eh it's a kid's show in a blender and pressed frape'. Joann M. Hunter... sorry lady any choreographer that has those candy carts in Toot Sweets and does not have those boys barrel turning their butts off has missed the boat... how about a sand dance with no sand... or wait a freakin' SAMBA??? I was looking for a quick exit at that point.

    What did I like? Not much. The kids... the orphans were a set of Indianapolis kids that they rehearsed in. You could not tell. I was very proud of our home team. That sort of thing usually never works.The spies, cheap but I needed to be pandered to. And the star of the show... the CAR. She was magnificent. I just hope she does not wind up on the scrap heap like the character she plays is in the first part of the act one.

    Here is what you should do if you are considering taking you kid to see the show. Find one of the quality local kids shows in town and go to it and THEN go to this link...
    http://www.amazon.com/Chitty-Bang-Special/dp/B0000C2IQD/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1241072418&sr=8-2
    and BUY the REAL Chitty Chitty and enjoy it as a family over and over again.
  • I'm floored and flabbergasted! We were there for opening night and loved the show. I would go back again any day. My daughter (who is in her 20’s) and I both were thoroughly thrilled with the performance. Though I don’t like to compare a movie to the musical, we felt the show was better than the original movie in so many ways.

    It sounds like something went really wrong on Wednesday night! On Tuesday there were no sound issues, the dialog was perfect and every note was on pitch. The orchestra could not have been better. Our season tickets are in the third tier where we often experience sound problems... but none were evident in this show!

    Concerning the Characters:
    > While there is the obvious loss of Dick Van Dyke (no one could play this part as he did). The actor playing the role of Potts was believable and had a great voice and stage presence.
    > We saw two of the understudies playing Jemima and Jeremy and they were fantastic, on cue, on point, they were great & didn't skip a beat.
    > The child catcher was scary and evil... and children around me were gasping in excitement and booing him from the stage!
    > The baron and baroness were less annoying than the actors in this role in the movie.... I must say I did miss the attempted murder fun in the Choo Chi Face song though.
    > And Truly; well she was irritating in the movie, but truly scrumptious in the play!
    > Regarding the CAR: Has everyone forgotten the allure of the car in the movie! It felt the emotion of the family, sensed danger and reacted. It didn't sing or dance in the movie either folks, but it did fly! And the flight in the play was more glorious and magical than ever represented on film!

    Highlights:
    > The rousing Tout Sweets scene was fun, lovable and exciting. The characters were active and vivacious and the dogs were so much fun!
    > The carnival scene with “Old Bamboo” was a blast! The set, lights, and actors were marvelous. The dancers were on the mark and in perfect sequence. While I agree the actor playing Caractacus was not Van Dyke, he was believable and sang and danced with charm and charisma….
    This is not the movie folks….. GET OVER IT! (Did anyone notice the animals in “Lion King” were really people… not animated characters, like the movie? This is a musical, not an exact remake of the movie!)
    > When we see the revitalized Chitty come out of the barn and the family hops in for the picnic at the beach, the song and ride there are magical. The people passing by were clever and comical. When Chitty’s raft expanded in the fog at the beach, people in my area of the theater clapped and cheered.
    > The hushaby mountain song, performed first in the children’s room and second in the darkness below the castle was pleasant and soothing, not nearly as cheesy as in the movie when it’s sung to Peter. Remember, the toymaker remarks… “That’s all you’ve got!”
    >When Chitty sprouted wings and soared, the crowd was enthralled. Several patrons in my area stood! And the children around me were jumping and shouting in their seats.

    I will agree with some things mentioned in the posts above... the Bombi Samba didn’t really seem to fit, was overdone and a little exasperating. The spies were a bit over the top as well, but they (and the Baron/Baroness) were also my least favorite part of the movie!

    Overall…. In a season with Lion King and Wicked in the mix... I am thrilled with my “Broadway across America” package and the performance of “Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang”! It far exceeded the dismal performance I sat through during “Happy Days”, or the vulgar presentation that forced us to walk out on “Avenue Q”!

    Grow up folks! Believe it or not the world is not all about adult themes, adult humor, and adults in general! This is a children’s book and movie made into a family musical! Let the young and the young at heart enjoy some pure, wholesome entertainment and a night of genuine fun, merriment, and frivolity at the theater!

    My recommendation is those individuals who didn’t like the musical should go home and rent Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang on film... then make an educated and fair comparison of the two if you feel you must! My assumption is that many people, who didn't enjoy the play, hold a child-like remembrance and fondness for the film that is less than realistic. The film was at times corny, cheesy, clichéd, and just plain, childish fun! And guess what, if we compare the musical to it, the scales are pretty well balanced.
  • Tammy,
    I'm glad you enjoyed the show.
    FYI: I attended on Tuesday and the sound was terrible halfway back in the orchestra section.
    And while others may be comparing it to the film, I wasn't. It's been a long time since I've scene it and barely remembered it beyond the car, Van Dyke, and a few songs. I was commenting on the theatrical experience without any particular fondness for the film. And I found it an incoherent, pandering, boring mess.
    Lou
  • Ah-hah! Could it be that you in particular were expecting something other than the Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang experience?

    My comments work in reverse as well. If you were expecting standard theater fare, what you got instead was a very exciting, exuberant, upgraded version of Chitty the movie!

    Thanks,
    Tammy
  • Tammy,
    You're fishing.
    I was not expecting standard theater fare (whatever that could possibly be. Nor was I expecting a slavish recreation of the film (as I stated, I don't have too many clear memories of the film). I wanted what I want when I go to any production--a theatrical experience that satisfied. And I was hopeful enough about the show to include it as an option in my weekly e-mail blast of previews.

    Unrelated note: The local kids that Ty mentioned did not get any compensation for their work. While chosen by audition, according to a press release, this is a wonderful opportunity for children from Indianapolis to perform onstage with professional actors without ever having to leave town. The Child Catcher would be proud.

    Lou
  • First of all Tammy, if you profess to love this show so much did you perhaps hold on to a program so you could site the name of the performer you loved so much in the Caractacus role... Steve Wilson or maybe the proper spelling of the song Toot Sweets. Which you Tout-ed to the heavens.

    The mere fact that you walked out on the crown jewel of the season AVENUE Q sheds much light on the kind of theatre you enjoy. I am surprised you did not like HAPPY DAYS. There you and Lou agree. I, however, can find a place in my heart for that show. My wife and I enjoyed it. It was NO AVENUE Q and I trust will be NO WICKED, something I have been looking forward to for years.

    Not to be rude, I would never ask a lady her age, but if you have a daughter in her 20's I am thinking it is possible that you like me had the amazing opportunity to experience Chitty in the theatres as a child. I was so looking forward to a respectful adaptation much like the current MARY POPPINS. But, instead the only magic was done by hydraulics and fiber optics. Yes indeed Tammy, you are right it is a family musical where characters talk about pooping in there pants, having crabs, and their penises shrinking. Fine family fare if you ask me. And you did walk out on AVE. Q, right? From my seats (I am sure from the 3rd tier it was hard to tell) there were the looks of let's just get through it on the faces of many of the cast. Because the laughs and applause just were not there Wed. night.

    Additionally Tuesday (opening night) they were running a $12 a seat special in addition to all the paper (free) tickets in the house. So, if I have just paid 12 bucks for this show I likely would have had a better time as well.

    And as far as your last comment is concerned...
    Whatever version was expected or not or was presented or not.
    It still had poop in its pants.

    Bring on WICKED and bring back Q!
  • Lou!!!!
    I did not realize that!
    Big League should be ashamed!
    Boo hiss. Child catcher is right... hooks ready... now yank!
    This is a national tour.
    tsk tsk tsk..
    and what was that dialect the CC was using anyway?
  • Oh, one more thing Tammy, then I will crawl back to the sewers under the castle. The kids you saw were not understudies the roles are double cast. One set plays the Potts kids while the others play the head orphans with lines, solos, extra staging.
  • One final post before I place the idea some people just hated it, to bed in my mind. First, I want to quickly say thanks to Lou for the playful banter. I was fishing, you’re right, but I thought it worth a shot. I always enjoy a light-hearted sparring match.

    Ty, my dear, how impassioned you are over my comments. Did it frustrate you so, that someone defended the show, or was it simply that I didn’t get the spelling quite right on Toot Sweets? Or was it that I didn’t list the actor’s name? Sorry my playbill was at home. Wow… you’re wound a little tight my friend.

    I’m happy you and your wife enjoyed Happy Days and Avenue Q. I was not alone in walking out of the theatre the night I attended the latter show. The show was very distasteful in my opinion… and yes Ty, I’m allowed to have one. I am also looking forward to Wicked, and have great expectations for it. But, I have to say the crown jewel this year was Lion King for me. I loved Spam-a-Lot last year, thought Wedding Singer was a blast, and My Fair Lady was just grand.

    As to my age… I am far from over the hill. I can still manage to get the proverbial walker up the ramp on my own. (By the way, I’m 45 years old.) I never saw the show in theatres as a child, or if I did I was too young to remember it. I agree there were parts of the musical that were less than appropriate for children of a questioning age. But these jokes were vague innuendoes, far from the crude light you’ve placed them in. And oceans away from what took place in Avenue Q.

    Nice slam on the 3rd tier seats and the fact that Tuesday was the “cheap” night! Gosh, if only we could all enjoy things from your perspective. Oh the grandeur of it all. It must be lovely to look down from the palace on the peasants. But alas, I must correct you. My seats were part of my theatre package so I could have changed to any other night just the same at no cost. I suggest you buy the package next year and save yourself a little money. If your wallet weren’t so tight, you might be able to enjoy the show a little more.

    Concerning the casts performance; I saw no “let’s just get through it” on the faces of any cast members. And the laughs and applause were there aplenty on Tuesday.

    One final thing I think we all agree on (thank God) it's a shame the kids weren't paid, that's unbelievable.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Tammy

    By the way Ty, there’s also a typo in your post, but let’s not be petty!
  • Not taking any sides... but I do believe that it was made very clear (In my opinion) what Avenue Q was about, and what would be said/done during the show (language/puppet sex)... and they didn't try to conceal that before the show. A quick internet search would have told you what the show was about, and if not that... the big article that was in Nuvo (even on the cover) the week the show started. So, if you knew that was something that would offend you... maybe you shouldn't have went to begin with and sold your tickets for that show (many websites that you can sell tickets on). Not trying to sound smart... but, I don't think they tried to hide what the show was about.
  • Tam Tam...
    Never said I was void of typos. I am the first to admit that without my checker my spelling is appollling. ;-) And as far as the use of our friend the comma... well, I, often, forget, he, is, available, for, use.

    I am a proud season ticket holder for the BROADWAY series. And a hugely vocal when it does not live up to its title, as Lou will testify. Wound tight, perhaps. Accusing you of being old, no. Of being MY AGE... and you are, in fact. Exactly my age. Many of my era have warm feelings for the film. You do not. As you said your opinion. CCBB was panned in NYC... it was panned here... and doubtful it will be panned across the country. With the exception of the CAR. That is what most of the theatre going public have said and I stick by them. Just because I happened to have seen the show Wed night from lower seats than the cloud club does not mean that is not where I normally sit. I have said over and over again. On this forum included how excited and pleased I was with this season... Best in years Finally... So, I'll thank you not to presume you know what my pocketbook contains or where I normally sit for I too am a member of the Club. So, I know how difficult it is to see expressions from way up there. That was what my comment was about. The theatre was so horribly empty wed. night (not even close to half full) that we moved down.

    I hope you take none of this debate as personal...
    I want people to go to the theatre.
    I just want them to know what to expect just like Lou.

    (The preceding post has been for entertainment purposes only.)

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