BWW Review: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY dazzles at Aronoff Center For The Arts
Audiences are taking a trip to a world of "Pure Imagination" with Cincinnati's 2018-2019 Broadway Series opener, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, running now through Nov. 4! Based on the beloved children's novel by Roald Dahl, Charlie tells the story of a young boy who dreams of one day becoming a chocolatier.
When Charlie's very favorite chocolatier, Willy Wonka announces a worldwide contest to get an exclusive tour of the Wonka factory, that is all that occupies Charlie's mind. There are 5 Wonka bars dispersed throughout the world with golden tickets in them. If one finds the golden ticket, then they get to attend the factory tour. Once the five tickets are found, the contest winners and their guardians go on quite a unique journey with a few bumps along the way. The last contest winner standing is told they will receive a grand prize of a lifetime supply of Wonka candy.
With all the story's outlandish and magical details, I was very excited to see how they would use special effects to achieve aspects such as the unveiling of Wonka's factory, the "Oompa Loompas", etc. My expectations were exceeded with the incredible use of projections, puppeteering, and... well, some things need to be left to experience without prior knowledge... but I will say it might be wise to pack tissues and be ready for your jaw to drop toward the end of the musical.
The character of Willy Wonka was first brought to life by the late, great Gene Wilder in the movie of the same name. Noah Weisberg, who plays the chocolatier on tour has a very Wilder-like quality about him in his performance. From the moment he breaks the fourth wall at the beginning to introduce himself, there was something remarkably magnetic about him. I shed a tear during the iconic "Pure Imagination" as his voice floated effortlessly over the melody and made for such a touching and nostalgic moment amidst the Wonka craziness. Weisberg's physical comedy is exquisite, as many of his quips are delivered with the help of body language. Willy Wonka is a character with a "larger than life" personality, and in this production, he goes incognito as a candy man to see what the world wants in candy. Weisberg makes the difference between the two characters visible, while also maintaining a bit of Wonka in the candy man.
In the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tour, they have three young actors playing Charlie, and they rotate for performances. Henry Boshart performed as Charlie for this specific performance. Boshart had the perfect child-like wonder that made all of Charlie's dreaming, creating, and excitement so believable. Boshart's voice equally matches his tremendous acting ability. He sings a touching song in Act I where he is composing a letter to Wonka requesting creations to help his mother and elderly grandparents. This was another tear-jerking moment. Boshart delivers such an honest and sweet performance as Charlie. If you get to see him, you are in for quite a treat!
Another highlight of the musical was the performances by the other contest winners. Four adults play the children in the show. Matt Wood plays the "German beefcake" Augustus Gloop, Jessica Cohen is the spoiled Russian ballerina Veruca Salt, Brynn Williams plays "Queen of Pop" Violet Beauregarde, and Danny Quadrino plays video game enthusiast Mike Teavee. These four characters endure most of the bizarreness in the plot, and each actor executes it with such vigor and star talent.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a sure hit, as there is something in it for every audience member. The score is bright and fun, there's some hilarious dark humor, the sets and costumes are otherworldly, captivating choreography, then mix in these incredible performances mentioned previously, and you have a perfect two and a half hours of entertainment that's sweet as candy!
Do not hesitate to grab your golden ticket to the Wonka factory as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is running now through Nov. 4 at the Aronoff!