By Lori Kimbel
The Elgin Opera House holds many childhood memories for me. It was where my 12 year old self, along with my best friend, tried to figure out how to get our ‘boyfriends’ to put their arms around us; it is where I got my first real kiss (different night…different boy); it is where I watched a movie, Airplane, that my mom told me not to while she was out of town; it is where I sat by my young nephew watching the classic ET when it first came out; and it is where I, along with so many of my friends would go to see Santa Clause and watch a free movie while on Christmas break.
As an adult I’ve watched as this new era of the Elgin Opera House was quietly ushered in and has grown into what is now a complete force to be reckoned with in the live theater realm. New memories are now joining the old and I get to sit and watch the actors that I have grown to know and admire as they play their hearts out on the historical stage. Watching Annie my daughter went into labor and insisted we finish watching the play before going to the hospital. I think Forever Plaid will forever be my favorite, but there have been so many good ones, including Beauty and the Beast, Guys and Dolls, Oliver, Oklahoma, Shrek…oh my gosh Lord Farquaad!!. Yes the Elgin Opera House is near and dear to my heart and after tonight’s performance of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that sentiment rings even more true. It just doesn’t seem like I can walk into this amazing 100 year old venue without walking away with so many more memories to stash away.
Director Terry Hale knows how to put on a show. The action, the dancing, the comedy, the sets, the props! The Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car was created using a golf cart. This car did not just sit in the corner on the stage; it was a huge part of the show and was full of life and action. Yes, Terry Hales puts on one heck of a show each and every time he directs.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is based off of the film version of the children’s book written by Ian Fleming, with music written by the Sherman Brothers who also wrote musical scores for Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Charlotte’s Web and the Aristocats, as well as writing the song It’s a Small World.
In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, eccentric Inventor Caractacus Potts purchases a beaten down, scrap heap of a car for his two children. They soon find out it has some unique features including floating on water and flying. The spoiled Baron Bomburst of Bolgaria hears about the car and wants it for his own.
Gary Bottger played Boris alongside Blake Rasmussen who played Goran. These two grown men are fun to watch in whatever part they have played over the years, and while these two tried their hardest to steal the show, leaving the audience in stitches time and time again, they were out shown by leading actor Rick Mugrage who played Caractacus Potts and Jeanette Smith who played Truly Scrumptious.
For Mugrage, who recently received a full scholarship through the University Resident Theatre Association internship program at West Virginia University, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang will be his farewell performance on the Elgin Opera House stage.
Dick Van Dyke, the original Caractacus is a hard act to follow, but I have a feeling he would have been proud of how well Mugrage played the part. Mugrage has a believability about him. He doesn’t just play the part; he becomes the character he is emulating.
Smith’s version of Truly Scrumptious, originally played by Sally Ann Howes, was absolutely amazing and dare I say better than the original. Her voice was magnificent and her timing while playing a doll on a music box was perfect.
Gia Tagnoli played Caractacus’s daughter Jemima and Henry Fager played his son Jeremy. These two young actors were amazing to watch and played their parts perfectly.
Of course I cannot leave out one of my personal Elgin Opera House favorites Heidi Laurance, who played the loud-mouthed Baroness Bomburst in a sing-song voice all her own. This girl can sing, this girl can act and this girl has a charm about her that is contagious; she had everyone enjoying her antics throughout the evening.
Bomburst, the tantrum throwing Baron played by Kylle Collins, wanted nothing more than a new toy for his birthday.
April Van Tassell, another one of my Elgin Opera House favorites, played the toy maker, a spry old gent that helped Caractacus free the children of Bolgaria.
I cannot leave out Mr. Coggins, played by Russ Buckley or Grandpa Potts, played by Wes Rampton, both did an excellent job with their parts. Rampton’s voice is phenomenal, so the Elgin Opera House crew better keep an eye on him or another theater company is likely to steal him away.
Hale likes to incorporate a lot of actors in his play; he fills the stage with action, colorful costumes and dancing. The large group of children played their parts wonderfully and helped to create a festive atmosphere; or a rambunctious one, when it came to beating up on the Child Catcher, played by Chad Rasmussen. I left him for last because he was so creepy looking. I don’t really even want to include the evil villain, but I bet under all that makeup and disguise he is a nice guy, he just played the evil villain part so well that I just don’t really like him that much, (just kidding of course, he was just that good!)
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang will be playing on the weekends throughout the month of March and into the beginning of April. If you haven’t gotten your tickets, go online right now and reserve your seat at www.elginoperahouse.com You will have a great time watching another wonderful production brought to you by Terry Hale and the Friends of the Opera House.