The story of the car that can fly, float and do whatever is needed to save the day has been a children’s classic for generations.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was written in 1964 by Ian Fleming for his son. Considering that Fleming is the creator of that ultra-suave, über-British spy with a license to kill who goes by the name Bond, James Bond, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was quite a departure for the author.
The story follows an inventor named Caractacus Pott, who purchases and renovates an old car. The car begins to take a life of its own, and shenanigans follow, with Pott’s family dealing with everything from traffic jams to gangsters who own an ammunition dump.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was made into a feature film in 1968, starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes. It eventually found its way to the stage, debuting in London in 2002 and Broadway in 2005.
Add another premiere to the production’s storied history: San Benito Stage Company is bringing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Hollister audiences July 12-27.
Dick Van Dyke probably won’t be in attendance, but he hasn’t confirmed either way.
The San Benito performance is produced by Jeanine Gonzalez and directed by Dena Gregory.
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a funny, energetic musical that has something for all ages,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a perfect family show.”
Gregory is back for her second go-round as director with the San Benito Stage Company, previously directing The Grunch in 2018. A teacher at Southside School who directs productions for the school, she said she began planning for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in November.
Gregory, who remembers watching the film as a child and being afraid of the Child Catcher, said she has been studying numerous other theater performances of the production, noting that “very few versions are identical.”
“I can’t tell you how many YouTube clips I’ve seen,” she said.
Among the challenges of directing the musical are the props themselves. One prop in particular is perhaps the most important: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang itself.
The musical calls for three separate cars: the original Chitty, the modified version and the Baron’s car.
Fortunately, the Hollister VFW Post #9242 stepped up and constructed the cars.
“I’m so happy to have other groups in the community help out,” Gregory said. “That was a pretty daunting prop. It’s the key character in this story practically.”
Auditions began in May, and 34 actors were chosen, with the youngest clocking in at 8 years old.
“We definitely have some veterans of the stage who really bring their experience and have been wonderful helping guide the younger set,” Gregory said.
San Benito Stage Company veteran Issy Menez is in her fourth production with the company, and this time plays Truly Scrumptious. The character, who is the love interest of Caractacus Pott, is the daughter of a wealthy sweet factory owner who joins the adventure of the Pott family.
After rehearsing as Truly Scrumptious for a month, Menez said she enjoys the musical portions her character is involved with.
“Those are really fun and pretty songs to sing,” she said. “I also really like the character’s easy-going, fun personality.”
For the audience, be prepared to feel some nostalgia, Menez said, adding that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang will bring back fond memories of childhood.
Menez, a Hollister native, said her interest in theater grew gradually from a young age, when she received vocal training and later tried her hand at acting.
She is currently working toward earning a master’s degree from Liberty University, studying to become a counselor, and noted the challenge of juggling both rehearsals and her coursework.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the third of the four-show lineup for San Benito Stage Company’s 20th anniversary season.
“The audience can expect to be entertained with song, dance and funny dialog,” Gonzalez said.
San Benito Stage Company will present Chitty Chitty Bang Bang July 12-27 at the San Benito High School Auditorium, 1220 Monterey St. in Hollister. Friday and Saturday performances will be at 7pm, with Sunday shows at 2pm. Admission is $15 general and $14 for seniors and students. SBSC members receive discounted tickets.
Advance tickets are available at Mars Hill Coffeehouse, Postal Graphics or online at brownpapertickets.com. Tickets are also available in the lobby prior to each performance.
San Benito Stage Company recently announced the lineup of its 2020 Revival Season, beginning in February with California Suite Room 203. The lineup also includes Beauty and the Beast Jr., Bye Bye Birdie and Annie Get Your Gun.