BWW Review: Boston Opera House Welcomes CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY National Tour
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Book by David Greig, Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, Based on the novel by Roald Dahl, Songs from the Motion Picture by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley; Directed by Jack O'Brien, Choreography by Joshua Bergasse, Music Direction by Charlie Alterman; Scenic and Costume Design, Mark Thompson; Lighting Design, Japhy Weideman; Sound Design, Andrew Keister; Projection Design, Jeff Sugg; Puppet and Illusion Design, Basil Twist; Hair, Wigs and Make Up, Campbell Young Associates; Production Stage Manager, Andrew Bacigalupo
CAST (in order of appearance): Noah Weisberg, Henry Boshart, Collin Jeffery, Rueby Wood, Clyde Voce, James Young, Amanda Rose, Jennifer Jill Malenke, Claire Neumann, Benjamin Howes, Joel Newsome, Sarah Bowden, Kathy Fitzgerald, Matt Wood, Nathaniel Hackmann, Jessica Cohen, David Samuel, Brynn Williams, Madeleine Doherty, Daniel Quadrino; Ensemble: Alex Dreschke, Jess Fry, David R. Gordon, Chavon Hampton, Lily Kaufmann, David Paul Kidder, Joe Moeller, Tanisha Moore, Caylie Rose Newcom, Borris Anthony York; Swings: Elijah Dillehay, Sabrina Harper, Karen Hyland, Kevin Nietzel, Kristin Piro, Armando Yearwood Jr.
Performances through January 20 as part of the 2018-2019 Lexus Broadway In Boston Season, at the Boston Opera House, 539 Washington Street, Boston, MA; Tickets: At the Box Office, Ticketmaster 800-982-2787, or www.BroadwayInBoston.com
The Boston premiere of the US National Tour of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened this week at the Boston Opera House, just about a year after the Broadway production closed at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The musical played 27 previews and 305 regular performances in New York, and the current tour launched in September, 2018, in Buffalo, bringing a 36-member cast, including the beguiling candy man Willy Wonka and the Oompa Loompas, his odd little troupe of orange-haired factory workers.
Technically speaking, the tour boasts the core of the Broadway team, starting with Director Jack O'Brien, Choreographer Joshua Bergasse, and Music Supervisor Nicholas Skilbeck (with the addition of Music Director Charlie Alterman). Also on board are Scenic and Costume Designer Mark Thompson, Lighting Designer Japhy Weideman, Sound Designer Andrew Keister, Projection Designer Jeff Sugg, and Puppet and Illusion Designer Basil Twist. Playwright David Greig wrote the book, based on Dahl's novel, and the multi-award-winning team of Mark Shaiman (music & lyrics) and Scott Wittman (lyrics) collaborated on all of the original compositions, added to the Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley songs from the motion picture.
Noah Weisberg (Willy Wonka) is a delightful guide through the colorful and sometimes dark world of his mysterious factory. When he decides that the time has come to find a successor to carry on his work, he sponsors a contest for five lucky (?) children to tour the place in the hope of winning the grand prize. As each of the aspirants obtains one of the coveted golden tickets (found in a Willy Wonka Chocolate Bar), they tell their stories in a series of lively songs. Meanwhile, Charlie Bucket (totally natural Rueby Wood at the press performance), the boy who is truly fanatical about both Wonka and chocolate, cannot afford to buy a candy bar and watches with dismay each time another golden ticket is claimed and the winner announced on television. However, the stars align when Charlie finds a dollar and purchases the Wonka bar that contains the fifth and final golden ticket, sending him on the journey to his destiny.
Competing for the prize are: Augustus Gloop (Matt Wood), a supersized German boy, whose proclivities for consuming mass quantities of sausage and anything that's not nailed down are made fun of (bordering on the offensive) in an ode ("More of Him to Love") sung by his mother (Kathy Fitzgerald from the OBC); ballerina Veruca Salt (Jessica Cohen), the odious, spoiled daughter of, if you can believe it, a Russian oligarch (Nathaniel Hackmann); a gum-chewing "Queen of Pop" (Brynn Williams) whose father (David Samuel) turns her questionable talent into a media event; and Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino), another brat whose mother (Madeleine Doherty) is happy to tie him into a chair in front of his electronic devices to keep him occupied.
Charlie's home life is a bit strange and more than a little sad. He lives with his hard-working, widowed mother and four grandparents who share a bed and never get up. Charlie brings home whatever rotten food he can purchase with limited money, does his homework, and dreams big. Although the absence of his father is not explained, Mrs. Bucket (Amanda Rose) sings a lovely ballad about him ("If Your Father Were Here"), projecting what Charlie's life would be like, and then a "ghost dad" shows up mid-song to shadow dance with the mother. It struck me as kind of creepy. Grandpa Joe (James Young) appears as comic relief, but encourages Charlie's dreams and ultimately helps him achieve them.
The first act lumbers on, burdened by the necessity to introduce all of the back stories, but things move along more quickly and dramatically in the second act. The awe and amazement of seeing the inside of the factory, a paradise of color and candy, is balanced against the dark demise of the golden ticket holders, as one by one they are hoisted on their selfish petards. (Note: If parents are unfamiliar with Dahl's sensibility, a little advance research might go a long way to protect any squeamish children.) However, the best part of Act II is the arrival of the Oompa Loompas, brought to life in an energetic kick line with the help of creative choreography and clever costume design.
Everyone in the ensemble brings it and performs with great energy, but it is in service to an underwhelming book of a banal story. It seems like it would be better and more plausible if there were more child actors. Charlie Bucket is the standard bearer for the younger set and Wood (the role is alternately played by Henry Boshart and Collin Jeffery at certain performances) does a terrific job of commanding the stage. Even if you know how the story ends, Wood captures the audience's affection and makes you root for Charlie to have the magical happy ending he deserves.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus (The cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)