'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' premieres Friday at Eastlight Theatre

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chitty musical

Ian Fleming stories are known for their gadgetry, their cool cars capable of doing everything short of flying.

There is one story written by the well-known author of the James Bond stories in which the car does fly and in fact, is one of the heroes. It is even a musical.

The car in question takes flight starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Eastlight Theatre in East Peoria when the production of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" opens a seven-show run. It will be the regional premiere of the stage version of the classic family story first released as a film starring Dick Van Dyke in 1968.

"The car will fly. The wings come out of the sides and everything. It's really impressive to see," said Chas Killen, who is directing the show that starts at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 and 10 and at 2 p.m. Aug. 4. Tickets are $18 and can be reserved online at tickets.eastlighttheatre.com (there is a $1 handling fee) or by calling 699-7469.

Killen said it was an easy decision for him when Eastlight offered him the opportunity to direct "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" as it was long one of his favorite movies from childhood. "It came out during that time when there were family films that had a touch of magic about them, like 'Mary Poppins.' When they made a stage musical out of the original story, I knew I would want to direct it some day," said Killen, a veteran director of several area theatres, mostly Peoria Players.

Fleming wrote the story of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" for his own son and with his wife's encouragement had music put into the story. "Things just kind of fell into place for him and it was made into the movie by United Artists. Fleming didn't do anything like this before or since, but it certainly shows another side of him" Killen said. (There were three other Chitty Chitty Bang Bang books written, but those were written by Frank Cottrell Boyce.)

Killen said the book originally was more of a spooky story, with the children being kidnapped and the car, named Chitty, coming to the rescue. "They later revamped it to make it for family friendly and whimsical, but it is still a good story," he said.

Staging it has taken a lot of imagination, Killen added. "It has been a challenge, but it also has been a lot of fun meeting the challenge. Steve Cordle (Eastlight Theatre's technical director) has done a great job with the special effects, as he always does. He makes the car fly. And he makes it float. Nobody will be disappointed. The effects are like nothing I've ever seen before in this area. The audience will be amazed," he said.

Because of the special effects work "the car becomes a character itself, which is what I wanted."

When the musical was first staged in London in 2002, the Guiness Book of World Records said the car, which flew over the audience, was the most expensive stage prop ever made.

The cast of 40 people is headed by Chip Joyce as Caractacus Potts, Jaret Ledford and Abby Prest as Jeremy and Jemima Potts, Alexis Wraight as Truly Scrumptious and Seth Hannan and Sally Baker as the Baron and Baroness Bomburst. Jeff Joyce portrays the Child Catcher and Kevin Wickart is the Toymaker. Bill Murphy is Lord Scrumptious.

There are 14 children in the cast, Killen said.

"I love some of these names. They are really clever when you think about the characters," he said, noting the closeness of the main character's name to being "crack pots".

The live orchestra is directed by Molly Sloter and Kelleen Purdin, who has worked at Disney World, is the choreographer. Some staging was done by Whitney Urish, Killen said.

Most of the songs from the film, including the Oscar-nominated title song "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", are in the stage version. Others are "Truly Scrumptious", "Toot Sweets" and "Hushabye Mountain".

"I really think we will be able to bridge the gap between grandparents or parents who remember the movie and will want to bring their own children and grandchildren to experience it. It would be one of my biggest joys of directing this show if we are able to do that. I'm hoping we can keep our audiences enjoying the show from beginning to end," Killen said.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).