In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a nutty inventor is able to make his children’s dreams come true, by crafting an incredible flying machine out of an abandoned old car.
It’s a bit of a metaphor for what Chad Matchette and his team have managed to do with Align Entertainment: make magic out of virtually nothing. When he and cofounder Patti Volk saw a gap in the Lower Mainland for large-scale, semipro family musicals, they decided to launch their own company. Now, just a few shows later, the company has come out of nowhere. It nabbed the top community large-theatre production award for its first show, Shrek the Musical, at last year’s Ovation! Awards, and then took home several acting and costume prizes at the 2016 Ovations for The Addams Family Musical.
“I had seen Shrek the Musical in London and absolutely loved it—the rights had become available and we said, ‘We should do it,’ ” Matchette recalls over the phone from Coquitlam, where the company is based. “We looked at doing a coproduction and we didn’t get any bites, so we decided to do it ourselves—over breakfast at the ABC Restaurant in Coquitlam!”
This year, for the first time, Align grows its season at Burnaby’s Michael J. Fox Theatre to two shows, with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang this month and then Jesus Christ Superstar in the fall. The plan is to increase to three-show seasons after that.
It’s all part of Matchette’s mandate to build an audience for musicals—especially shows, like Chitty, that haven’t been performed in Metro Vancouver before. And building that audience means making them family-friendly, so that young people get a taste of the form.
“I have friends who have never been to a musical and they’re in their 30s,” Matchette says. “And I think if you’ve never been to one you’re never going to go, unless somebody drags you.”
Staging these works also provides an outlet for all the people trained in musical theatre in this town, including grads from the local Capilano University program, as well as for child performers, of which there are a bunch in Chitty.
The approach involves staging as high-quality a show as possible. That means a live orchestra and eye-popping sets and costumes. In the case of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a musical based on the beloved 1968 movie with Dick Van Dyke, it also requires a particularly elaborate prop: that amazing flying car.
“In the original production in London, it cost £750,000—I think it was the most expensive prop ever created for the stage,” says Matchette, who’s directing the show. “Needless to say, we’re not doing that, but it’s still pretty cool.”
In fact, Matchette and company were going to build the auto from scratch, but then received a call from a company in Kelowna that had just performed the show, asking if they would be interested in using its car. “We’re just tricking it out a little bit more,” he says.
The musical, which premiered in London in 2002 with a few new songs added to the old favourites from the movie, should appeal to nostalgia buffs who know all about Truly Scrumptious, Toot Sweets, and the trip to Vulgaria, as much as a new generation, Matchette believes.
“There isn’t a person on the planet who doesn’t know that song,” he says, referring to the catchy title tune that plays on the sounds the old, sputtering car engine makes. “And it was unusual for its time: a single father raising his two kids and who is so involved in their lives.”
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is at Burnaby’s Michael J. Fox Theatre from Friday (February 5) to February 20.