As earworms go, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang's signature tune is a doozy.
Jaunty and jolly to the point of inducing carsickness for those not attuned to the spirit of this absurd family romp, the song's rhythms cleverly mimic an old car sputtering into life and bouncing down an open road on a sunny day. "Oh you pretty Chitty Bang Bang/Chitty Chitty Bang Bang/We love you . . ." (For added cheese, try Alvin and the Chipmunks' 1969 version on YouTube.)
The Sherman brothers, Richard and Robert, who died last year, were earworm specialists of the highest order. Once I Wanna be Like You (The Jungle Book) or Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (from Mary Poppins) crawl into the noggin, they are tough to expunge.
It is the great pleasure of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, adapted from the 1968 film, to see Toot Sweets, Truly Scrumptious, Chu-Chi Face, Doll on a Music Box and other earworms infesting audience members as they left the theatre singing, humming or shaking their heads to dislodge them.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang tells the story of how widowed inventor Caractacus Potts (David Hobson), his two children and Grandpa Potts (Peter Carroll) join with sweets heiress Truly Scrumptious (Rachael Beck) to save a magical car from the scrap heap. They then use it to outwit the greedy Baron Bomburst, ruler of Vulgaria, his bumbling spies Goran (George Kapiniaris) and Boris (Todd Goddard), and the dastardly Child Catcher.
The twisted, surreal mind of Roald Dahl, who co-wrote the original film, is evident in the persona of the Child Catcher, played with terrific vaudevillian menace by Tyler Coppin.
Shane Bourne, who has replaced Alan Brough as the spoilt-brat baron, is still coming to grips with the role but Jennifer Vuletic's physical elasticity and comic timing are a hoot as the baroness.
The weird, fantastical elements from the film work to the advantage of the theatre. Musical director Peter Casey and his pit orchestra tap gloriously into the Edwardian music hall tempo of the score and director Roger Hodgman unfolds the set pieces with pace and elan, enhanced by the colourful picture-book period sets and costumes of Anthony Ward.
Hobson, the opera singer turned song-and-dance man, is a likable and convincing Potts. His solo Hushabye Mountain shows his tenor voice to soaring effect and is a highlight. So, too, is Beck's turn in Doll on a Music Box, which melts susceptible hearts just as much the original by Sally Ann Howes.
Praise should go to the marvellous vintage roadster that appears to fly across the stage, and to the Perth children who play Jeremy and Jemima Potts. On opening night, Chloe Marlow and Declan Allen (who alternate with Stephanie Shaw and Seamus Harrison), ensured the many youngsters in the audience were with them every moment of the ride.Any flaw lies not with intrinsic quality of the show but with how it translates from a lyric theatre to the cavernous space that is the Crown Theatre. Many at Friday's opening struggled to hear dialogue and lyrics with the music often overpowering the performers.