Two children sit inside a car on stage at a theater
Caedmon Wilcox, left, and Ava Bartlett rehearse a scene from "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." The duo plays Jeremy and Jemima Potts in the production, which runs Jan. 27-Feb. 12. (Photo by Jeff Kessinger)

Friday night won’t be Tom Baker’s first time on the Landers Theatre stage. It will just be his first time with an audience.

Baker has gone from filming commercials for Springfield Little Theatre to playing the role of Caractacus Potts in the company’s production of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” which runs Jan. 27-Feb. 12.

“I would come and film here and I’ve always loved this stage, so I kind of got to the point where I wanted to do a show here,” Baker said before a Jan. 23 rehearsal. “So I started looking at shows that would be up my alley.”

And “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” — a musical based on the 1968 film — is definitely up Baker’s alley.

“When I was a kid, my grandma had, like, three VHS tapes and one of them was ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,’” he said. “So if it was too hot outside, or we just wanted to sit inside, we’d put in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.’”

Baker calls playing Potts ‘a little surreal’

Baker said it’s a little surreal to be playing this role, going from viewer to actor. But he has made sure to put his own spin on the character made famous by Dick Van Dyke.

“You kind of want to do your own version of it,” he said. “You don’t want to mimic it too much. It’s not a cosplay, you know? You have to build a character, and there are different nuances that the stage show has that the movie doesn’t have.”

This musical adventure tells the story of Potts, a widower who sets about restoring an old race car from a scrap heap with the help of his children, Jeremy and Jemima — played by Caedmon Wilcox and Ava Bartlett. They soon discover the car has magical properties, including the ability to float and take flight.

But trouble finds them when the evil Baron Bomburst wants the car for himself. The Potts family joins forces with Truly Scrumptious, played by Rebecca Claborn, and Grandpa Potts (Ron Seney) to defeat the Baron and Baroness.

The car plays a central role in the show

“The journey of the characters, I think, parallels the journey of the car,” said director Jessica Bower. “In the beginning, the car is kind of rundown, it doesn’t have that much excitement happening. …  Through the very eclectic and very ingenious ways of Caractacus Potts, they’re able to find a way to buy the car so he can finish it for his kids.

“He does that and he doesn’t realize the car itself is a character. The car itself is magical. I think it parallels his own journey, because the magic of love comes back into his life, with the character Truly Scrumptious. He’s really kept to himself to this point, but once the car comes into his life, it really livens up the hearts of his kids, of him and of the people that come in contact with him.”

Two men in suits perform on stage
Joseph Galetti, left, and Mason Brown rehearse a scene from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” The show runs Jan. 27-Feb. 12 at Springfield Little Theatre. (Photo by Jeff Kessinger)

It is, indeed, a special car. Realizing they wouldn’t have time to build one, Bowers and her husband Jamie — SLT’s technical director, who is doing the lighting and sound design on the show — searched nationwide for a car to rent. They found this one at the Plaza Theatre Company in Cleburne, Texas, about an eight-hour drive away.

“We went and picked her up, brought her back,” Bower said. “She’s hanging out with us for three weeks, and then we’re going to take her back. … This car fit within our parameters, and I just think it’s perfect for us, perfect for the Landers stage.”

A family affair

This isn’t the car’s first theatre production, nor is it Baker’s. He’s a stage veteran, having performed in community theatre productions in Jefferson City and Branson, as well as Dallas. He was also part of a Springfield Contemporary Theatre production. But something about this show is very special. His son Sam is in the cast as well.

“This is probably my 70th show that I’ve been in, but this is the first show I get to do with him, so it’s kind of a dream come true being able to share the stage with him,” Baker said.

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” is a family affair on stage and off, with a G rating. Both Baker and Bower said the production would make for a great family night out.

“This would be such a blast to bring your whole family to because there are kids in the show, and they’re amazing,” Bower said. “There are teenagers, there are adults of all ages, so the cast really resembles the audience that, I think, would want to come see the show.

“It’s a show about love, it’s a show about taking risks. There’s a lot of comedy in the show, but there’s also a lot of sweet and tender moments as well.”

Four people perform a play on a stage
Caedmon Wilcox, Ava Bartlett, Rebecca Claborn and Tom Baker rehearse a scene from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” The musical runs Jan. 27-Feb. 12 at Springfield Little Theatre. (Photo by Jeff Kessinger)

Want to go?

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” at Springfield Little Theatre, Jan. 27-Feb. 12

Tickets: $17-$37

For more information: call 417-869-1334 or visit the Springfield Little Theatre website

Jeff Kessinger

Jeff Kessinger is the Reader Engagement Editor for the Springfield Daily Citizen, and the voice of its daily newsletter SGF A.M. He covered sports in southwest Missouri for the better part of 20 years, from young athletes to the pros. The Springfield native and Missouri State University alumnus is thrilled to be doing journalism in the Queen City, helping connect the community with important information. He and wife Jamie daily try to keep a tent on the circus that is a blended family of five kids and three cats. More by Jeff Kessinger