The first act of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory may have required more time in the testing room, but once they enter the titular factory, this musical adaptation proves the everlasting power of pure imagination.
Rewrites & re-tries
This whimsical musical based on the classic Roald Dahl novel has a long history – opening originally at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 2013, it’s original run lasted over three years despite mixed critical reception. It’s Broadway iteration (2017), starring Christian Borle was a messier production – with bland, cheap-looking sets, a far cry from the stylish, spectacle of the London show & massive changes to Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s (Hairspray) score.
This most recent tour attempts combine the best of both to mostly engaging results.
Doncha’ Pinch Me Charlie
Act 1, which follows the search for Wonka’s 5 Golden Ticket’s, is one which, in every previous adaptation of the story, struggled to capture the imagination quite as much as what follows later. Here, unfortunately, it is no different. Often bogged down by repetitive balladry and a rather boring story structure, you just want things to get to the factory – which won’t open its doors until the very last number of the act.
There are some fun moments in the form of “news flashes” where we are introduced to each golden ticket winner through different styles of music – yodelling for Augustus, pop for Violet. But a certain magic continually felt missing throughout the shows first hour and some creative decisions felt misguided. Changes made to “When Veruca Says” made the song feel too slow & less humorous than on Broadway and the utterly nonsensical mash-up of forgettable new number, “You Ain’t’ Seen Nothing Yet” and act 1 finale, “It Must Be Believed To Be Seen” ruins the impact of one of the show’s biggest numbers.
“Do come in…”
But when we enter the factory — thing’s pick up pace and the show finally feels wondrous. The set design – full of mostly colourful projections & special effects – juxtaposes the very simple, yet detailed practical sets of Act 1 and adds to the sweet world of the Wonka factory. The stage flooring itself was even used as a screen for some magical scenes. As well as this, the numbers – more from the Broadway show than London – feel more energetic & moving, especially from the Oompa Loompa’s who here are portrayed as steampunk robot types, an interesting choice compared to the more familiar ones presented in past shows.
Gareth Snook’s Wonka was of course the highlight – a slightly more sinister character than both the Wilder & Depp interpretations who seems to find delight in the fates of the children. And Charlie – who is played by a rotating cast of child actors on this tour – was also fantastic and it was refreshing to see a show change the pronouns of the character, rather than having a girl play a male character as most shows do. The rest of the ticket winner’s were made up of adult actors, as they were on Broadway, but feel less like adults playing make believe as they fully embody their characters on this tour.o
This new tour of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory is scrumdiddlyumptious at it’s best, but years of rewrites and reiterations can’t seem to make the most of the source material (just yet).
Featured Image Credit: Leeds Playhouse
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