Buckle up for an exhilarating and unforgettable ride: the fantasmagorical Broadway musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is making its first-ever Israeli stage appearance starting September 30 at the new theater in Pisgat Ze’ev – just a few minutes’ walk from the light rail station.
It’s hard to keep a good flying car down, but the coronavirus did just that, forcing postponement of the beloved musical’s opening night for more than a year. But now, in full compliance with all Health Ministry regulations, this Israel Musicals green-pass stage production looks forward to safely delighting Zoom-weary audiences tired of looking at device screens by bringing back the joy of live theater.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was written by noted British author Ian Fleming, perhaps best known for creating James Bond, and much of the excitement of 007’s exploits makes its way into the play in a family-friendly and humorous way (Roald Dahl had a hand in creating the script).
The Academy-Award-nominated movie that so many of us fondly recall took theaters by storm and was one of the top-grossing films of 1969. The theatrical version enjoyed similar success and was the longest-running show ever at the London Palladium, taking in over £70 million over its three-and-a-half year run.
Without plot spoilers, suffice it to say that the story is about down-on-his-luck eccentric single-parent inventor Caractacus Potts (played by Yisrael Lutnick) who rescues a dilapidated Grand Prix car from destruction in a junkyard at the behest of his two adorable children and turns it into a fancy vehicle, and then they – together with beauty Truly Scrumptious (soprano Rachel Barkan Vainer) – go off on a magical adventure to far-off Vulgaria to save their grandfather (and ultimately also the children) from the evil clutches of the children-hating Baron and Baroness.
Potts’s son, Jeremy, is being played by a talented newcomer to the stage with deep roots in the theater: Lutnick’s 10-year-old son Joseph.
In true Ian Fleming style, the story has spying, intrigue, romance and love. Yes, it is a children-friendly family play, but there is also a healthy amount of over-the-kids’-heads adult humor to amply amuse and reward adults in attendance. And the story’s inspiring messages – such as that you can make dreams come true, broken things can be fixed, teamwork and that love knows no barriers – are exactly the kinds of ideas to which parents want to expose their children.
Israel Musicals is no newcomer to Jerusalem stages, having wowed audiences since 2007 with productions such as The Sound of Music, CATS, The King and I, Evita, The Producers, Annie, Peter Pan and more. Founder and artistic director Lutnick ascribes the theater group’s success to “our actors and actresses, musicians, choreographers, technicians, costumers and scenery makers – a diverse team of artists of different ages, outlooks and backgrounds all united in our devotion to create magic on stage.”
LUTNICK’S LOVE for this musical goes way back – it was his favorite movie in his childhood.
“I have long looked forward to an opportunity to regale Israel with the magical stage version of the movie I loved as a kid. It’s like a big box wrapped with a ribbon waiting for you to open. People who grew up with the movie version will be delighted to discover that the stage version provides for new wonder. There are great songs added, a much fuller story, and tons of belly-laugh comedy targeted at all ages.”
Musicals generally require three to four months of rehearsals to be ready for the stage, but in this case, the gap between the first rehearsal and opening night was more than a year and a half.
Veteran actress Sorah Grotsky tried out for and won a comedic role as one of the Vulgarian spies and began rehearsals early in the fateful year 2020.
“We started rehearsals and then we had to stop because of the lockdown,” she relates. “We tried to keep it up over Zoom, but it was very difficult; it is almost impossible to rehearse musical numbers over Zoom, everyone singing from their house. It was terrible, it didn’t work and eventually we gave up. We didn’t know how long restrictions would last or if we would ever resume work and make it to the stage.
“When we were finally able to resume, some of the original cast members were no longer available and had to be replaced, but the cast we have now is as good as it gets – everyone is great and we have an unusually tight bond and camaraderie because we have been together on this project for so long.”
Key staff members include assistant director Malka Abrahams; choreographers Akila Mosley and Maayan Allen; and Tom Zylbersztein is the musical director. The actors are too numerous to name individually.
Another star of the show is the magical car itself, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The last time we checked, gravity continues to be as strong in Pisgat Ze’ev as it is in other places in Israel, so the car, as beautiful as it is (this reporter did get a sneak peek at the splendid vehicle in question when I visited the site of a rehearsal last week) loaded down with four very human passengers cannot reasonably be expected to soar around the theater like a nimble wired Peter Pan.
“The car will look like it is doing something thrilling, and that’s enough,” Lutnick said enigmatically. “As long as the audience knows the story... If you are relying on special effects to win over the audience then you have a problem. We have really good performers; the acting is really outstanding, and that is what is most important to make the enchantment happen.”
After the long corona siege, families can use a healthy dose of charm, fun, soul, spirit and even magic, and that is what Chitty Chitty Bang Bang promises to deliver. The classic motorcar salvaged from a junkyard may not actually fly, but perhaps our spirits will.
‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ opens September 30 at the impressive new – and very accessible – theater in Pisgat Ze’ev. Info and tickets: www.israel-theatre.com 077-450-6012.