12:36 AM CDT on Wednesday, June 24, 2009
By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News
Cute kids. A quartet of hilarious villains. A whole pack of trained dogs. A production number with a samba that sizzles. What more could a family musical possibly need?
How about a magical car that floats, flies and makes people ask it nicely if they want a ride?
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang chugged, sailed and soared into Fair Park Music Hall for the Dallas Summer Musicals on Tuesday. This road version more than lives up to the standard the Broadway version set in 2005. Largely overlooked in a bumper year for musicals, it struck me as the best Broadway family show since The Lion King. This tour, adapted and directed by Ray Roderick, sacrifices a bit of grandeur but gains in comic spontaneity.
Ian Fleming, an unlikely children’s writer, shows his hand as the original storyteller in various ways: There are spies, though they’re played for laughs. And recall that James Bond’s cars always had tricks up their sleeves, just like the title vehicle here.
Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman’s songs are almost as infectious as the ones they created for Mary Poppins. And, frankly, the plot in this show is more appealing. The father, hapless inventor Caractacus Potts (Steve Wilson), has boundless affection for his children (Jeremy Lipton and Camille Mancuso at Tuesday’s performance). They all look after the grandfather (Dick Decareau), and the kids know before the dad does that there’s chemistry brewing with a motorcycle-driving heiress (Kelly McCormick).
None of the performers are household names, but they’re all solid pros and often more aptly cast than their Broadway counterparts. Dirk Lumbard is delightfully oily as the taller of the bumbling spies, and Scott Cote is his even dumber sidekick. As the evil baron and baroness, George Dvorsky and Elizabeth Ward Land are silly and sinister at the same time. Oliver Wadsworth may be entirely too sinister for younger children as the hideously creepy Childcatcher, although the happy ending defuses most of the terror.
You don’t have to be a kid to have a truly scrumptious time at Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But feel free to bring a couple of tykes along if you think you’ll feel conspicuous without them.
PLAN YOUR LIFE Through July 5 at Fair Park Music Hall. Runs 150 mins. $12 to $71. Ticketmaster at 214-631-2787, http://www.ticketmaster.com/.