by Adam Gruenewald
Like an inventor showcasing his newest creation, Centre Stage Theater cast and crew members will display their various skills to the public in their performances of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
Certainly a slight shift from last year’s smaller production of “Plaza Suite,” Centre Stage Theater welcomes back artistic director Brian Isles and musical director Missy Isles who worked on expansive productions like “Oliver” and “Annie.”
Local teachers, the Isles retake over the reins from Bryn Tanner of Brooklyn Park for this year’s production of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
Actors and crew are certainly revving their engines for the play, which is based somewhat on the 1964 novel by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame and 1968 film directed by Ken Hughes and starring Dick van Dyke. In brief, the play centers on a down-on-his-luck inventor and father named Caractacus Potts who turns a broken-down Grand Prix car into a fancy vehicle for his children, Jeremy and Jemina Potts, and, after meeting Truly Scrumptious, they go off on a magical fantasy adventure to save their grandfather Grandpa Potts in a far-off land from Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria.
“It’s a family-friendly musical,” said Brian Isles, a teacher at Central High School, adding that his wife Missy has had a passion for the play having watched the movie with her family. “I’m trying to do justice to the film without having to copy the style.”
The play is certainly coming together as auditions for the play were held in June and the cast and crew of about 35, incorporating a variety of ages and backgrounds in the area, have been rehearsing several times a week since June 13.
Musical director Missy, a teacher at Cologne Academy, added she is enthusiastic about the play that meets the needs of the cast.
“The music has been running through my head since I was 6-years-old,” she said, adding despite her visions she and Isles are incorporating the ideas of the cast and crew in terms of the choreography or working with the template of the script. “We want to have that community feel of everybody coming together to create the entire thing. Everyone feels more ownership over it.”
With regards to special effects, Brian Isles admitted the play is certainly ambitious.
“This is probably the pinnacle of our special effects achievements with the theater,” said Isles. “We’re having a blast.”
One of the biggest challenges for the crew of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” was finding a way to incorporate a car. Challenges with bringing a real car in due to space resulted in the special construction of a car by Josh Bard of Jordan,
“It’s been a little daunting to have it done but we should have it soon and we’ll start to play with it,” said Brian, adding there is some “trickery” involved to present the car in full. “It will fly and it will have working lights and it will have puffs of exhaust smoke… We’re going to be using some fun special effects that we haven’t used in many of our other shows.”
Among those at the forefront of working with the challenges of the set and design are stage manager and soon-to-be Central senior Taylor Karstens-Breitzman and her assistant, Ellie Coffel, a soon-to-be Central freshman.
“We’ve had a lot of different ideas with what we’re going to do and I think we’ve finally settled on one,” said Karstens-Breitzman of the car. “I think it’s going to work really well.”
Karstens-Breitzman, who plans to attend college after she graduates, said she enjoys community theater.
“It’s good to be back doing community theater,” said Karstens-Breitzman. “It’s good to have all different walks of life coming in and all different ages and skill-sets, seeing everyone collaborate together is really fun.”
Karstens-Breitzman added she enjoys working with Coffel.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “I see a lot of potential in Ellie and she’s been doing a great job so far.”
Coffel, who started as a crew member with past plays, said Karstens-Breitzman is “great” to work with.
“It’s so much fun having all different age groups and getting to work with kids who aren’t just in high school,” she said.
Among the cast members in Centre Stage’s adaptation of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” are Martin Diers, who plays Caractacus Potts, Carly Boehm, who plays Truly Scrumptious, while Peter Diers and Julia Palaia play Jeremy and Jemina Potts. Also, Joe Lemmer plays Baron Bomburst and Sherri Harwarth plays the Baroness Bomburst.
Martin Diers of NYA, who also portrayed Drake the Butler in Centre Stage’s adaptation of “Annie,” said he was recruited by Brian Isles to portray one of the lead characters in Potts.
“I heard they were doing it and thought it would be really fun to play Potts,” he said, adding he likes the challenge. “It’s intimidating and my first lead role. There are a lot more lines and a lot more is expected of you, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
Martin, who is a CIO of The Bernard Group in Chanhassen, added having his son Peter in the cast is a huge benefit as they enjoy rehearsing lines at home.
Like Diers, Boehm said that Truly Scrumptious is her first big role and that comes with some positives amidst some challenges.
“It’s been a lot more lines and music to learn,” she said. “It’s just been fun getting to know the cast in a different way too, because they all know who I am which is also different.”
Boehm, a reading teacher at Cologne Academy, also shared enthusiasm for the play and working in community theater as an actor, a shift from her role at Cologne Academy Theater.
“It’s really cool being on the other side of things,” she said, adding she likes incorporating her view of the role into the overall production. “One of the things I love about community theater is the random ideas that other people and (The Isles) work with it and take those ideas. It’s part of community theater but also part of how they direct.”
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” with ticket costs paid at the door, will be shown at Central High School at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 17 to 19.
Follow Adam Gruenewald on Twitter @adamgruenewald