By Tracey Paleo // Gia On The Move
If you were hoping for the iconic,
1971 movie version - the Gene Wilder candy man who frighteningly taxis around a bunch of bratty kids and their hopelessly bullied parents through his
factory, kiss that dream goodbye. Gone are the resplendently creepy Oompa Loompas, tunefully toe-stepping as they admonish horrible children and their progenitors. You won't find gobs and gobs of unimaginable sweet comestibles, or the fantastical, shock-inducing settings. And a naïve little Charlie, completely awed by the world of Wonka? Not here.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
aims to present a more modern, sped up bombast for today's audiences, and it does a fairly good job of it... to a point.
Overall, it is a standard musical theater pleaser. Spirited, fast-moving, colorful, and with an added bit of updated techno and plenty of comedy. However, there are a few obstacles in this production, although I suspect theater-goers will choose to overlook them for the overall experience. And that experience really is terrific. Unless, of course, you are a die-hard Willie Wonka fan and cherish the much more sophisticated storytelling and messaging of the original book and movie.
One issue that the audience may have trouble overlooking is the casting. Mini-singing-powerhouse Charlie Bucket (played by Rueby Wood on opening night), is the only real child in the production. The rest of the "children" are (wonderfully talented) adults cast as close as possible, except for a gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Matt Wood), who strikingly stands out as an adult-dressed-up-as-child. Jessica Cohen, who plays Veruca Salt, is voracious in all her spoileddom, pushing her way through everyone in pointe shoes and fur, and demanding everything she sees. Violet Beauregarde (Brynn Williams) is still the world-record hopeful gum chewer, but with an added transformation into a social media celebrity - complete with paparazzi, a brand manager, and her father-in-tow. Alas, Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino) is now an anti-social, ADHD riddled sarcastic wannabe. Malcontent, although still larger-than-life and now addicted to television. And, of course, Charlie. Sigh. He has traded his pure guilelessness for smart inventor ingenuity. His magical quality, unfortunately, gets lost in this production, and it was that piece of whimsey that made him standout as someone special from the group.
The first act is dedicated almost entirely to presenting each of the ticket winners instead of getting to the factory right away, which leaves the second act no choice but to hurl you into the OMG-Charlie-you-won! finale without much more precedent as to why he's done better than the other kids, with the exception of not doing anything stupid like falling into a chocolate river and getting painfully sucked through a tube.
Noah Weisberg as Willie Wonka plays his role to perfection. Maybe even better than that. Weisberg's enthusiasm, timing, and delivery go a long way to pull in the high marks for this presentation overall. The surprise Oompa Loompa dance extravaganza is the 'spectacular spectacular' of the night.
Directed by Jack O'Brien, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a bit more salty/sweet than tearjerker gratifying. But it mostly hits its high points and is an entertaining night at the theater for kids - or at least the kid in all of us.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is playing at the Pantages Theater now through April 14th. For more information and to get tickets, please visit: https://www.hollywoodpantages.com