Header Image: Stephen Anderson (Willy Wonka) and the cast of Charlie and the chocolate factory QPAC season. Image by Darren Thomas.
Before I start this review, I would like to point out that there are spoilers ahead. If you haven’t read at least the original novel, be sure to get a copy before reading ahead!
Roald Dahl’s works initially welcomed me into the world of imaginative literature at the age of eight. I remember every morning early in grade 3; my class was sitting cross-legged on the floor around our teacher’s chair Mrs. Pratt. She would hold the book Charlie and the chocolate factory in his hand and read us a chapter – followed by discussions and assignments around what happened in the chapter. The love grew as my collection of Roald Dahl works grew with people like Mathilde, James and the giant elevator, The witches, George’s wonderful medicine, The BFG and even the often-forgotten sequel to the ‘Charlie’ series – Charlie and the big glass elevator. Dahl’s work has adapted well to other mediums, such as the recent film adaptation of The BFG and fantastic live productions of Mathilde the musical feat. the work of Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin and George’s wonderful medicine by Shake & Stir Theater Co, based in Brisbane.
But the only one of his books that I’ve always had trouble adapting in any form is Charlie and the chocolate factory. From the original (and arguably best movie) starring Gene Wilder whom Dahl disowned, to the 2005 film version, which tried a little too hard to adapt this classic novel into a darker Burton style… those- these have never captured the magic of the original work. Unfortunately, the musical version of the scene didn’t hit the mark either. Despite some fantastic writing of the character of Willy Wonka, arguably the best take on the character, the show was disappointed with a lack of directing imagination, a few overly long scenes that seemed to desperately attract the youngest of the guests. , and a mediocre pace.
The show’s biggest bright spot was both the writing behind Willy Wonka’s character and the actor who portrayed him (Stephen Anderson). I would say the character build was flawless, channeling a harmony of the best tracks from Wonka’s Dahl, Wilder, and Depp versions while providing elements that set him apart from other iterations. Viewers are treated to a sassy, eccentric, and slightly psychotic take on the character, who is versatile in virtually any scene the show can throw at him, being a humorous character rather than scary – despite some of the heartbreaking events that unfold. Wonka is portrayed as someone who has clearly been locked in his factory for a little too long and becomes jaded towards humanity. Yet behind it all, he has a passion for the imagination and the search for his successor. The biggest change for his character is that he’s been on the show from the first issue. With this Broadway production featuring the song “Candyman” from the 1970s feature film, Wonka plays the “Candy Man”, who plays with Charlie throughout the first act as if testing his resolve and tenacity, and it is he who pushes him to obtain the Golden Ticket. This approach worked well, I think, giving viewers more exposure to the show’s brilliant character, but also highlighted the bigger forces that drove Charlie to get the ticket.
However, Wonka’s greater presence appears to be at Charlie’s expense. During the performance I attended we were treated to a performance of Cooper Matthews as Charlie Bucket, and I have to say the kid has a talent that will hopefully serve him for many years to come. and decades on the scene to come. Unfortunately, the character’s writing was lackluster, offering virtually no character growth from start to finish. He’s a star-eyed chocolate enthusiast at the start and a star-eyed chocolate enthusiast at the end… but this time with a real chocolate factory. The buckets being “poor” were pretty much only there to continue the story.
The rest of the cast were above average, with strong performances from Lucy Maunder (Mrs. Bucket), Robert Grubb (Grandpa Joe). The four parents were also well chosen, representing four very distinct personalities who have made their way into the songs – Octavia Barron Marin (Mrs. Gloop), Simon Russel (Mr. Salt), Madison McKoy (Mr. Bauregard) and Johanna Allen (Ms. Teavee). I would also like to give a special mention to James Haxby as Grandpa George, because although I was only in a few scenes of Act 1, I remember thinking I would be happy if he took the place of Grandpa Joe and have a grumpy and sarcastic grandpa. during Act 2. The cast of the ensemble, which took on the roles of Oompa-Loompas, reporters and other supporting characters, also shone. The cast of the other four “Golden Ticket Holder” children was quite reasonable. However, with the exception of Taylor Scanlan as Mike Teavee, I found it impossible to think of them as anything other than adults trying to portray children. Although they manage to get away with arguably a bit more with adult actors, including what happens to children… I just don’t think the cast works despite the good performances of the actors. Other than that, given the limitations that would be in place due to COVID-19 in the casting department … they’ve put together a decent cast.
As someone who has enjoyed recording the West End cast for many years, I was delighted to finally see what the version of Broadway the Australian production was based on had to offer in the soundtrack department. . Due to poor reception during West End production, many songs were rewritten, deleted, or rearranged as they made their way to the United States. The end result was something that had its strengths and a few less good points. The bright side was the inclusion of a few more songs from the Wilder movie, including Candyman (What connects Wonka’s inclusion in Act 1) and the iconic Oompa-Loompa theme was used verbatim initially, then repeated several times. It was a huge success in the nostalgia, and the songs they chose were welcome but did not go beyond their reception. The songs added and removed were random, in some cases helping to pace the events, others removing some really good moments, and in one case jarring as Violet Beauregarde didn’t have a song to herself in Act 2. The highlight for me was easily Must be believed to be seen, an incredible finale to act 1.
Aside from the character development issues and the cast of adults in child roles, the other issue with Charlie and the chocolate factory derives from its construction of the world – both the narrative genre and its real settings. Regarding the first, the rhythm is poorly constructed where Act 1 drags a bit too long and tries to be unnecessarily exaggerated despite the little substance, while Act 2 accelerates a bit too fast although it does. or the meat of the story. The notable example of this is in Act 2, where over a good 5 minutes are spent with the group bypassing security to enter a secret Wonka vault, which not only leads nowhere, but forces the audience to imagine that a completely empty stage is full. deadly and dangerous traps. It’s perfectly understandable to expect audiences to use their imaginations in all theatrical productions, but an empty stage and many attempts at humor favoring the younger audiences got me thinking.
When I first saw this trailer Charlie and the chocolate factory in the West End many years ago, I had very high expectations for when I could finally see how the creative team brought Wonka’s Chocolate Factory to life on stage. Unfortunately, between West End and Broadway, many elaborate sets have been scrapped in favor of digital screens and minimalist sets. In some cases, less is more, such as during Veruca Salt’s ballet in the factory (featuring both amazing and intimidating squirrel dancers) or the view of the factory from Charlie’s hometown where the forced perspective made the scene appear much larger than her. was. But there were more cases where the sets were a bit too simple when they should have been more grand, or didn’t look like what was established over the past 50 years. One of the great examples was the Candy Forest & Chocolate River, a big “wow” moment in the book and the movies. In addition to some technical difficulties in making part of the screen blank, if I didn’t know the original work, I would have thought it was in a standard forest, albeit a bit of a cartoonish one. Although passable, the set designs did not quite meet the standards one would expect from a “national touring production”. Charlie and the chocolate factory was to make the imagination come true – and I felt they could have done a lot more.
Charlie and the chocolate factory was scheduled to be played at the Queensland Performing Arts Center (QPAC) in early 2020, just days after the first COVID-19 lockdowns essentially shut down the industry overnight. After that, one might reasonably have expected not to see this show gracing the Lyric Theater stage at all. However, with QPAC as the lead producer on this production, the venue has likely taken a lot more risk to bring the show back to Brisbane audiences, especially if we were to enter another sudden lockdown. Although I wonder if Charlie and the chocolate factory was a show worth bringing back to Brisbane, when over a year of musicals was wiped off the schedule QPAC deserves kudos for providing this opportunity to enjoy musical theater again and a great option for school vacation fun!
Ultimately, nothing can beat Roald Dahl’s original novel when it comes to Charlie and the chocolate factory. While other theatrical productions such as Mathilde the musical managed to surpass their source material, this production delivers creative ideas but is very uncertain in its implementation. While I can’t say I enjoyed watching the show too much, it seems like a great option for families receiving audiences, and I can imagine an 8-year-old Sam in awe of everything that happened. unrolled.