The movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" features an amazing car capable of flying and sailing.
Director Rick Hammel wasn't having any luck finding such a vehicle for his musical at the Majestic Theatre, so he and his daughter attended other stage productions for inspiration.
A matinee performance at the Newport Performing Arts Center would prove serendipitous. Its director approached Hammel after the performance and offered to sell him that production's car. Another theater had backed out of the deal at the last minute.
"I'm at any other show, and I've missed this window of opportunity to buy their car," Hammel said.
The 1,500 pound car, "Chitty" as they call it, has a 5- by 12-foot steel and wood frame built atop an old golf cart. It can drive back and forth across the stage and includes some features to help create the illusion of flight.
"The car is the star," said Michael Wren, who plays Grandpa Potts.
"Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," the musical, adapted for the stage by Jeremy Sams with music and lyrics by Richard B. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, opens Friday night at the Majestic Theatre. It's based on the famed 1968 movie starring Dick Van Dyke, which came from Ian Fleming's children's book.
"It so happens the movie turns 50 this year," Hammel said.
"Chitty" the car first appeared in the musical in 2015 at the Elgin Opera House in La Grande. It was then sold to theaters for productions in Canby and Newport.
While the car may entertain audiences, it's posed a challenge for cast and crew. The first task was getting the machine into the theater, which involved removing the building's back door, separating the frame and cart, and taking it in piece by piece, Hammel said.
Generally, a play has one load in day to set up the stage. "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" required two.
"We had a 'Chitty' car load in day a week before bringing all the set pieces and stuff like that," Hammel said.
In addition to driving, "Chitty" can raise, rotate and bounce, and even has wings. The use of projection screens and other materials help create the illusion of the car flying, floating on water and falling.
When the lead actors are in the car they have specific tasks, like pushing buttons and pulling levers to produce some of its movements and effects.
"It takes at least two people to get the wings out," Hammel said. "It's not 'just sit back and let it go.'"
The car is a character and big piece, said Samantha Johnson, who plays Truly Scrumptious. She said it's difficult to perform these jobs and convince an audience that the car's doing everything.
"Working with that has been the most challenging thing, not only because you're in the car trying to make it look as magical as possible but also because it's huge," she said.
The cast has 53 members, ages 6 to 68, with at least a dozen children, Hammel said. Most of the lead roles have been double-cast.
The musical centers on eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts (Ben Wetzel and Mathew Huffman), a widower with twin children, Jeremy (Adam Keeling and Hudson O'Malley) and Jemima (Elliette Barlow and Hannah Morris). The kids have found a car, a former Grand Prix champion, at the junkyard and, along with their Grandpa Potts (Wren), beg their father to buy it and fix it up.
The children meet an upper-class woman, Truly Scrumptious (Johnson), daughter of candy-maker Lord Scrumptious (Jason Seivers). She forms a bond with the children and tries to help Caractacus sell his "Toot Sweets" candy to her father.
Eventually, Caractacus earns the money to buy the car and rebuild it. The Potts name it "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" for the noise its engine makes. Caractacus takes Truly and the children on a trip to the beach, where he tells them a tale about the evil Baron Bomburst (Timothy John Kelley II), who wants to steal the car. He's the leader of Vulgaria, a fictional country where children are imprisoned.
"He (Bomburst) is a larger-than-life big baby, but can also be very serious," Kelley said. "He's a character that's so in love with his toys and his wife."
His wife, Baroness Bomburst, is played by Kelley's wife, Kim.
"This is the third or fourth time we've done this as both heroes and villains. We have that chemistry and it makes rehearsals a lot easier," he said.
The Bombursts mistake Grandpa Potts for Caractacus, kidnap him and fly to Vulgaria to have him meet with their inventors and build a car like "Chitty." The Potts and Truly must follow them and avoid the Child Catcher (Jo Judge) to rescue Grandpa.
Hammel said his cousin thinks the Child Catcher is the scariest of all movie villains, which was a reason he wanted to direct the musical.
This version will be more tame.
"Our Child Catcher is really just scary enough, but not Ursula-scary with 'The Little Mermaid.' She will be frightful but still lovable," he said.
The Sherman brothers' score will be performed by a 12-piece orchestra directed by Colin Salisbury. He has been a vocal director for various choirs in Lebanon and performed in several theater productions, Hammel said.
Michael Wren, himself a musician who loves to sing, said the musical offers more songs than the movie.
The cast all have favorites.
Kelley enjoys "Chu-Chi Face," a love song between the Bombursts where the Baron suggests he'd rather see his wife dead. He also likes "Hushabye Mountain."
"I love 'Toot Sweets.' It's super fun, just because our choreographer Megan (Skinner) did an amazing job," Johnson said.
Her other favorite is "Doll on a Music Box."
"We have a gigantic music box that moves and spins. I get to pretend I'm a pretty little doll," she said.
Hammel said the musical and songs will revive memories for many, something he noticed as "Chitty" participated in the Corvallis Christmas Parade and the Veterans Day Parade in Albany.
"We were playing the theme song, and people were singing along, because everybody knows 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,'" he said.
Naturally, one cast member may prove to be the focus of attention for audience members.
"I think they are going to fall in love with the car," Kelley said. "It's impressive."