Broadway tour ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ deliciously satisfies audience cravings
by Philip Potempa
I grew up with “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” as one of my favorite childhood movies.
It was released in 1971, just one year after I was born, and just having the word chocolate in the film title was enough to get most any child’s attention and admiration for this story with so many lessons, all originally shared in author Roald Dahl‘s delicious 1964 book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
I’ve spent the past few years eagerly following the recipe for long-awaited release for the Broadway musical treatment of Wonka, Charlie and the now infamous greedy gang that surrounds these title characters. Broadway In Chicago has the jump on “trick or treat” with the sweet stage sensation tof Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” now playing at Oriental Theatre, 24 West Randolph St. in Chicago through Oct. 21.
Before bowing on Broadway in April 2017 (with one of my favorite funny lady talents Jackie Hoffman in the parental cast), “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” enjoyed a nearly four-year run across the pond at Theatre Royal Dury Lane at London’s West End where it was unveiled in June 2013 before closing in January 2017. After changes to some scenes, songs and character details, and with three-time Tony Award director Jack O’Brien cherry-picked to craft the New York Broadway treatment, “Charlie and Chocolate Factory” opened in April 2017.
The tale remains the same, opening with the struggling Bucket Family, and for this national tour, a very talented young actor named Henry Boshart playing the title role of the little boy with dreams and an insatiable sweet tooth for a better life and hopes for at least the luxury of a lone chocolate bar every now and then. Boshart is earnest, warm and believable as the lad who can nibble at a candybar with enough restraint to make it last six months.
Boshart’s prized performance makes disliking the rest of the bad lot of his fellow “child” counterparts, and their indulging parents, very easy for the audience. In contrast, Amanda Rose as Charlie’s mother has a glorious voice and honest, wide-eyed portrayal of a mom who’d like to give her son more than she is capable. Leading the quartet of Charlie’s reclusive grandparents is James Young as tall-tale spinning Grandpa Joe, who agrees to join his grandson for his prize-winning tour inside the walls of the mysterious Wonka candy factory after the boy finally snares one of the five fabled “golden tickets” released by Wonka.
Also entering the candy confines are Bavarian duo Mrs. Gloop, played by stelwart Kathy Fitzgerald (reprising her same role from the Broadway run) and gluttonous Augustus Gloop, played to the hilt by Matt Wood. There’s also snotty, gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (changed up for this telling as a “pop” star performer wanna-be) blown up by Brynn Williams and her social media mega-ego father played by David Samuel. Wealthy and spoiled Veruca Salt is given the new persona of a Russian Ballerina (it was difficult for me to hear her lines wrapped in her accent) with Nathaniel Hackmann as her stone-cold father. Lastly, it’s an entertaining turn by Daniel Quadrino as video game obsessed Mike Teavee and funny Madeleine Doherty (who was Grandma Georgina in the Broadway cast) as his gin swilling ma.
And last, but certainly not least, it’s the man of the hour (or two and half hours in the case of the length of this performance) wiry Noah Weisberg as the odd and indifferent Mr. Wonka, who shows more than just a bit of sly mirth as each of the youths (all played by adults, with the exception of Boshart and his alternating other young actors Collin Jeffery and Rueby Wood as Charlies) meets their just desserts and forced departure from the Wonka Factory.
More than a few friends and family were eager to quiz me about how the iconic tiny by never tiring Oompa-Loompas are portrayed in this stage rendition. Suffice to say the age’s old stage trick used, works incredible well, and amuses more than once during each time these fervent and unusual little factory workers crop up to the clean up the messes left behind from Wonka and Co.
This show stars the music of Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award winner Marc Shaiman paired with lyrics by Grammy and Tony Award winner Scott Wittman with Shaiman and the book by Artistic Director of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre David Greig and magical choreography by Tony Award nominee and Emmy Award winner Joshua Bergasse and includes additional songs (“The Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination”) by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley from the 1971 Warner Bros. motion picture. While the costume design by five-time Tony Award nominee Mark Thompson is picture-perfect, his scenic design is less than generous given all of the fantasy possibilities that hungry audiences expect once inside the Wonka Factory. Lighting design is by four-time Tony Award nominee Japhy Weideman with sound design by Andrew Keister, projection design by Jeff Sugg, puppet (there’s a fun tiny factory squirrel who scampers and miniature Mike Teavee with incredible flailing arms and legs) and illusion design by Obie and Drama Desk Award winner Basil Twist. Orchestrations are by three-time Tony Award winner Doug Besterman and music supervision by Nicholas Skilbeck.
While favorite elements from the 1971 film are served up, they are blended with Dahl’s original intended story twists, such as the factory “nut room” scene, which was altered for the original film. Seeing the Broadway Veruca, as portrayed by Cohen, dancing a ballet with giant-sized diabolical squirrels is easily worth the entire price of ticket admission. (They even sell official “stuff animal” versions of the Wonka Factory squirrels at the merchandise counter in the theater lobby.)
Secure a “golden” ticket to see this Broadway in Chicago presented run of the new national tour of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and enjoy a candy-coated clever creation enjoying its first time in Chicago.
Tickets start at $27. FYI: 800-775-2000 or www.CharlieOnBroadway.com or www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Philip Potempa is a veteran journalist and published author. He can be reached here.