Local stars and flying cars headlined at the Possum Hall in Georgetown on Thursday, July 21, when the Possum Point Juniors debuted their summer show in a unique rendition of the Academy Award-nominated “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
Among them were rising Indian River High School senior and PPJ/Clear Space vet Kerrine Walls (“Bye Bye Birdie,” “Thoroughly Modern Millie”), who starred as Truly Scrumtious opposite Seaford’s Sava Cook as protagonist Caractacus Potts.
“It was good to feel nervous,” Walls said of what was one of the largest roles to date in her young acting career.
“I was feeling nervous but also very excited, because I care a lot about it.”
From early in Act 1, Walls turned that nervous energy into showing audience members that she wasn’t their grandmother’s Truly Scrumptious.
In the 1968 musical film, based loosely on Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Flying Car” and staring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes, Howes’ version of the character had depicted a more old-fashioned Scrumptious. For the version and vision of director Devon Lynch (“Pippin,” “Sweeney Todd”), however, Walls aimed to bring a new dimension to the character.
“I haven’t seen the movie in years, so I didn’t really go in being too familiar with the original Truly Scrumptious or the cast that’s touring,” Walls explained of her character choices.
“I talked about it a lot with Devon. Truly is her own woman. She doesn’t want to rely on another person, but then she finds Caractacus and she goes through this whole cycle.”
The result was a more independent and modernized portrayal of Scrumptious, still staying true to the original character’s story arc, yet on what she aimed to be a deeper level.
“I wanted to find a Truly that wasn’t what we were used to seeing in the movie. In the film, she’s very princess-like; she’s elegant, she’s graceful and she’s fun, but there’s not a lot of depth to Truly,” Lynch explained his vision of the character and casting of Walls.
“Kerinne has this strength but also a strange sort of vulnerability on stage that reads really well with an audience. With Truly, I wanted to find an independent but sort of naive Truly, and I think that Kerinne at the auditions, when she read for Truly — that was it.”
Also a PPJ/Clear Space veteran and a rising-senior at Sussex Central High School, Lynch went on to explain that, as it was with the character of Scrumptious, deconstructing the script down to its core and finding its truth was his goal for the entire production and entire cast in what was his directorial debut.
“We’ve seen ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ before where it’s very light, very fun, but I wanted to find something real,” he said. “It’s a 1960s movie, so it sort of sugarcoats a lot of things. I wanted to really break down the script. I really wanted to find the sincerity in all of the moments.
“I wanted my Possum Juniors, my actors, to really discover what could make a show like this. I wanted to sort of find the reality and the parallels in what’s going on in the show and what’s going on in our everyday lives.”
After a drop-out at the final hour, Lynch also had to take on the role of Baron Bomburst opposite Sussex Central’s Blair Williams as Baroness Bomburst, the duo serving as added comic relief throughout the show in the form of slapstick romantic rivalry.
However, in order to strip down the script, he and the Possum team first had to strip down the set — which they designed and built themselves — putting the setting’s focus on an old abandoned warehouse.
The idea was for the simplicity of the warehouse to allow for the show’s focus to remain on the desired parallels, while at the same allowing the production’s protagonists to “rebuild” their lives and find both happiness and fulfillment.
“Devon put so much work into this,” Walls said. “He put so much of himself in it. He took risks, and they paid off.”
While the cast was particularly happy and fulfilled after the show, as they said is the case with all Possum Juniors productions, their chemistry off-stage was what they had to thank for a successful showing on stage.
“It’s the most talented group of people that I’ve ever met, and it’s so much fun to be around them,” Walls said. “This is what I spent my summer doing. I look forward to rehearsal every single day.”
“Because we’re so close-knit, we can really play with things and make choices on stage together. It can work really well,” added Lynch.
“We get the work done. That’s the best part of it. We can work and have fun at the same time. You don’t find that a lot. It’s something I grew up with, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Also starring in the production was Indian River’s Chris Jones as Grandpa Potts and Central’s Braeden Swain as Boris the Spy.
The next production at the Possum Point Theatre will be “Into the Woods,” set for its opening night on Sept. 30. For more on the Possum Point Players or the Possum Point Juniors, or to audition for an upcoming show, visit www.possumpointplayers.org.