Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
National Tour
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of The Addams Family and Little Shop of Horrors


Noah Weisberg (center) and Cast
Photo by Joan Marcus
From the ingenious mind of author Roald Dahl came over two dozen books and short stories, including the classic children's novels "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Matilda," and "James and the Giant Peach." All three of those books have been turned into stage musicals, with the first two having lengthy runs in London, though both not faring quite as well on Broadway.

While the musical adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may not equal the inspired creativeness of either the 1971 film version that starred Gene Wilder or the 2005 Tim Burton directed movie, and is a bit loud and long, it has moments of humor, fun, warmth and charm along with a few good songs. It also gets across one of the main themes in the book, that being kind and believing in yourself will likely lead to success and happiness, while self-indulgence is a recipe for doom. The national tour of the Broadway production is in town for a week-long run with a cast who throw themselves into these familiar characters with glee.

The plot of the Broadway show includes a few changes from the book, the previous film adaptations, and even the London production, which featured most of the same songs, though the main plot and characters are the same. The story focuses on poor Charlie Bucket (Collin Jeffery), a sweet, caring boy with a wonderful sense of imagination who lives in a small house with his entire extended family, including his mother (Amanda Rose) and four grandparents (James Young, Jennifer Jill Malenke, Claire Neumann, and Benjamin Howes). When the mysterious and reclusive Willy Wonka (Noah Weisberg) announces a contest for five lucky winners to tour his chocolate factory, with the winning golden tickets hidden inside Wonka chocolate bars, Charlie is desperate to win. Charlie discovers from TV reports that the first four winners are all rotten, self-indulgent children and their parents are equally unpleasant (Kathy Fitzgerald, Matt Wood, Nathaniel Hackmann, Jessica Cohen, David Samuel, Brynn Williams, Madeleine Doherty, and Daniel Quadrino). Will Charlie find the fifth golden ticket?

Just about all of the familiar songs from the beloved 1971 film adaptation by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, including "The Candy Man" and "Pure Imagination," are included in this version (only the latter song appeared in the London production). The rest of the songs by composer Marc Shaiman and his co-lyricist Scott Wittman never approach the genius of their Tony-winning score for Hairspray, and are mostly forgettable, though a few songs, including the warm "If Your Father Were Here" for Charlie's mother, the driving and whimsical "It Must Be Believed to Be Seen" for Wonka, and the charming finale, "The View From Here," are quite good. David Greig's book sticks fairly close to Dahl's original novel plot, though he made numerous changes beginning with the London production, increasing the role of Wonka, which actually helps provide a better connection between him and Charlie while making him less ominous and mysterious, and also eliminating the part of Charlie's father, as was done for the 1971 movie.

Director Jack O'Brien keeps the pace moving along at a fairly fast clip. However, having to introduce all of the winners, each with a solo song, makes for a long wait before we finally get inside the chocolate factory. The cast is quite good, with Noah Weisberg appropriately playful, mischievous, and just a little bit morbid as Wonka, and Collin Jeffery, who alternates the part of Charlie with Henry Boshart and Rueby Wood, bright and full of charm as this young dreamer. Amanda Rose is warm with a clear singing voice as Charlie's mother, and James Young is quite touching as Charlie's Grandpa Joe.

While all of the actors who play the other winners and their parents are good, Jessica Cohen is perfectly bratty and has exceptional balletic abilities as Veruca Salt, and Madeleine Doherty is a comic gem as the mother of one of the winners. She gets big laughs throughout on the many funny lines she is given, including, after she sees trouble come to the other winners which is always followed by a musical number sung by the small Oompa Loompas, "Oh no. The little people are singing again. That's never a good sign."

The creative aspects for the tour, based on the original Broadway designs, are good, but don't quite mange to achieve the spectacle of either film adaptation. Mark Thompson's set design provides some whimsical elements, but his larger scenic pieces are a bit lackluster and fairly minimal, which does not quite help to portray the fantastical world and rooms inside the Wonka factory. Fortunately, Jeff Sugg's projections, which use a large center video screen as well as screens on the sides and top of the proscenium, deliver some creative touches, especially during the number "Vidiots!." Thompson's costumes, Campbell Young Associates' wigs and makeup, and Japhy Weideman's lighting design are all full of color and creativity. Basil Twist's puppet designs find a humorous way to bring the small Oompa Loompas to life on stage, and choreographer Joshua Bergasse provides some high-energy dance moves, which are delivered well by the large ensemble.

The musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is far from a perfect musical and will most likely not make you forget the almost perfect 1971 film version, but it still has enough humorous aspects and whimsy to make for a fun theatrical experience.

Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, through June 16, 2019, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, www.charlieonbroadway.com.

Music/Co-lyricist: Marc Shaiman
Co-lyricist: Scott Wittman
Songs from the Motion Picture by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley
Book: David Greig
Director: Jack O'Brien
Choreographer: Joshua Bergasse
Set/Costume Design: Mark Thompson
Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman
Sound Design: Andrew Keister
Orchestrations: Doug Besterman
Puppet Design: Basil Twist
Wig, Hair & Makeup Design: Campbell Young Associates
Production Properties Supervisor: Buist Bickley
Projection Design: Jeff Sugg

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Willy Wonka: Noah Weisberg
Charlie Bucket: Henry Boshart, Collin Jeffery, Rueby Wood
Mrs. Green: Clyde Voce
Grandpa Joe: James Young
Mrs. Bucket: Amanda Rose
Grandma Josephine: Jennifer Jill Malenke
Grandma Georgina: Claire Neumann
Grandpa George: Benjamin Howes
Jerry: Joel Newsome
Cherry: Sarah Bowden
Mrs. Gloop: Kathy Fitzgerald
Augustus Gloop: Matt Wood
Mr. Salt: Nathaniel Hackmann
Veruca Salt: Jessica Cohen
Mr. Beauregarde: David Samuel
Violet Beauregarde: Brynn Williams
Mrs. Teavee: Madeleine Doherty
Mike Teavee: Daniel Quadrino
Ensemble: Sarah Bowden, Alex Dreschke, Jess Fry, David R. Gordon, Chavon Hampton, Benjamin Howes, Lily Kaufmann, David Paul Kidder, Jennifer Jill Malenke, Joe Moeller, Tanisha Moore, Claire Neumann, Caylie Rose Newcom, Joel Newsome, Clyde Voce, Borris Anthony York


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