by Lynn on December 5, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by David Greig

Based on the book by Roald Dahl

Music by Marc Shaiman

Lyrics by Scott Wittman

Songs from the motion picture by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

Directed by Jack O’Brien

Choreography by Joshua Bergasse

Set and costumes by Mark Thompson

Lighting by Japhy Weidman

Sound by Andrew Keister

Puppetry and illusion design by Basil Twist

Cast: Jessica Cohen

Madeleine Doherty

Kathy Fitzgerald

Nathaniel Hackmann

Claire Neumann

Daniel Quadrino

Amanda Rose

David Samuel

Clyde Voce

Noah Weisberg

Brynn Williams

Matt Wood

Rueby Wood

James Young

Terrific for kids and adults of all ages who like dazzle, pizzazz, loudness, charm, cute kids and seniors, lots of eye-popping distraction and chocolate. There is also a lovely moral  hidden in all that stuff and the mean kids get their just desserts and it doesn’t come with whipping cream.

 The Story.  Charlie is a sweet kid from a poor but loving family. He loves chocolate and he wants to win a contest to visit the Willy Wonka chocolate factory. But first he has to buy a special chocolate bar and he doesn’t have the money. By a miracle he gets one and enters the competition with the other four kids who have a special bar of chocolate. It’s a competition really between the privileged, spoiled, arrogant kids and the decent, kind, generous Charlie. Who will win???

 The Production.  The show of course is based on the Roald Dahl children’s book of the same name. Charlie loves chocolate. He also has the most wonderful imagination and thinks of all manner of ideas related to candy. He writes to the mysterious Willy Wonka who owns the chocolate factory and includes his suggestions. And of course he hopes he wins the contest.

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Charlie has the love and support of his family, especially his Grandpa Joe. But they too are suppressed by an unfair system that favours bad behaviour, money and status. But they carry on.

As seems to be the norm when adapting kids books to Broadway the production is overblown with blaring sound, dazzling, neon-coloured sets and costumes (thank you Mark Thompson), and eye-popping lighting effects (thank you Japhy Weidman).  And while some of the songs (by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) are from the motion picture, the majority of them were written expressly for the musical by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

This is not to suggest that the show is cheesy. No Sir. A lot of talented people had input in this enterprise. Jack O’Brien is a smart, intelligent director who has done justice to such musicals as Hairspray and the Full Monty.  And he has been equally successful in directing such challenging plays as The Coast of Utopia, Henry IV, Macbeth and The Nance to name a few. He directs Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with flair, imagination and a sense of whimsy. Basil Twist did his magic in creating the puppets, especially for the diminutive Oompa Loompas. It’s a joke that keeps on giving. Their creation is brilliant.

As Charlie, Rueby Wood has confidence and sweetness for days. He plays Charlie’s innocence, his moral centre without being prickly about it and his boyishness. Plus he sings beautifully. Willy Wonka is played by Noah Weisberg with both a sense of reserve and an impish streak that gives the spoiled brats their comeuppance, but has a keen sense of who is decent, as Charlie is.

The rest of the cast is strong and engaging.

Comment. There is nothing sweet and sentimental about Dahl’s kids’ books. They are dark in tone, attitude and generally show the challenging world that kids live in.

Certainly in Matilda we saw a plucky little girl named Matilda who had terrible parents, a brute of a head mistress in her school and all manner of challenges in just getting through the day. She also had a kind librarian who encouraged and supported her in her love of books.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has its own sense of darkness when Charlie has to go up against kids who have had more privilege then he has; who have more money and are spoiled rotten. Charlie can see the inequity in it all but he has character, and the others don’t. In the end that’s what makes the difference.

Mirvish Productions presents:

Opened: Nov. 21, 2018.

Closes: Jan. 6, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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