The name Willy Wonka creates images of mouth-watering chocolates and delicious confectionery delights. After two successful films, an updated stage version of Mr. Wonka’s story has been produced for the musical theatre and is currently playing at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. Adapted for audiences of a new generation, there is plenty of charm to be enjoyed.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is playing at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through August 11, 2019. Get tickets and further information here.
The story tells of the confectionery impresario Willy Wonka. As he realizes his own mortality, and as a way to brilliantly boost sales, he comes up with the plan to hide five Golden Tickets inside the wrappers of his various chocolate bars, and disperse them throughout the world. Those that find it win a personal tour through his miraculous chocolate factory where it has been mysteriously noted, “nobody ever goes in, and nobody ever comes out”. The first four winners are horrible children with terrible personality traits. The final child to find the lucky ticket is Charlie, an American living with his family (four grandparents and a mother) in utter poverty, and who is obsessed with the legend of Willy Wonka. After being greeted by the highly reclusive, confectionery genius, the five children (and parental escort) are admitted to the extraordinary chocolate factory. One by one the children’s true behaviors emerge until only one is left to claim the ‘grand prize’.
The ‘children’ are all fantastic while bringing their individual heinous characters to life. Each one gets a moment to shine both in their introduction, and again while meeting their own form of karma. Augustus Gloop (Matt Wood) is jovial as the food-obsessed Bavarian that takes a forbidden drink from the chocolate river. Veruca Salt (Jessica Cohen) is an extremely spoiled prima donna from Russia. Her character stands out as the demanding ice-princess that is declared a ‘bad nut’ by the life-sized ‘sorting squirrels’, and meets her end in a comic parody of The Nutcracker. Violet Beauregarde (Brynn Williams) is the gum chewing self declared American “Queen of Pop” culture that becomes a ‘blueberry’ when she tries an experimental candy. Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino) is an American delinquent obsessed with his phone, game consul, and all forms of cyber media, who becomes the first boy ‘sent by television’ where ‘actual size’ is a literal concept.
Charlie Bucket (played by three boys on different nights: Brendan Reilly Harris, Henry Boshart, and on opening night Rueby Wood) is the only character actually played by someone under the age of 18. The decision helps to emphasize the character’s purity and innocence. Master Wood holds his own among his more experienced peers. His voice is strong and his uncorrupted outlook allows him to pull the audience into his world while becoming endearing to the audience.
The “Oompa-Loompas” are definitely a part of this musical fantasy. Through award-winning puppetry, talented actors and blackout costuming, these crowd-pleasing characters were faithfully represented in their true, ‘undersized’ forms. These characters definitely add in comic relief and received the most enthusiastic applause of the evening.
While there are no doubt that the children are the main focus of this musical, several adults do add in their own personality stamps. A new character of a street vender “Mrs. Green” is added and played by Clyde Voce. She is only in a few scenes, but brilliantly steals every one with comic presence, behavior and commentary. “Grandpa Joe” (played by James Young) helps his family escape the reality of their poverty by telling tall-tales as if he lived them (the character would have to be over 125 years old for the least of them to be accurate). He is Charlie’s favorite, and the one picked to escort the boy to the factory. His comedy is more physical and he does it well.
Of course, the main adult in this musical is the title character, Willy Wonka (played by Noah Weisberg). Mr. Weisberg’s performance is rather blasé as compared to the younger group around him. While the eccentricities of his character come through, they make us feel more put-off than empathetic. His take on the ‘infamous’ candy maker lacks the charming weirdness of Gene Wilder as well as the cartoon quirkiness that Johnny Depp brought to their roles*. Instead, Weisberg plays Wonka as more arrogant and twitchy, in an edgy sardonic kind of way. His voice isn’t strong, although it handles the songs with a softer kind of charm, especially when singing the beloved classic “Pure Imagination”**.
Several familiar songs, written by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse for the classic 1971 musical film**, are used in this production including: The Candy Man, I’ve Got A Golden Ticket, and Pure Imagination. Other original songs make up the majority of the score, and are written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Many of the songs have been changed [improved] from the London 2013 premier. While there is nothing that will be a ‘break out’ hit from the newer numbers, many of them are enjoyable and those with a good ear with notice subtle musical nods to one of the team’s previous musical hits, Hairspray.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory opened on the London stage in May 2013 with Douglas Hodge in the title role. The musical moved to Broadway on April 23, 2017 with Christian Borle as Willy Wonka, and John Rubinstein as Grandpa Joe. Its sole nomination (and win) was the 2017 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Puppet Design (Basil Twist). Roald Dahl wrote the original novel, the basis for the films and musical, in 1964. Two film versions* have been adapted (with a third allegedly in the works); first in 1971 staring Gene Wilder and then again in 2005 with Johnny Depp as the lead.