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BWW Review: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at Théâtre Du Gymnase

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French-language version of the West End Hit.

A few weeks after the passing of the great Leslie Bricusse, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory finally opens in Paris a the Théâtre du Gymnase after multiple postponements due to the Covid crisis. This is a fitting tribute to the composer of Goldfinger and many stage and movie musicals, even if only two songs he wrote for the 1971 movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder,:the touching ballad "Pure Imagination" and the Sammy Davis Jr. hit "The Candy Man." These songs stand out against the new score by Marc Shaiman, composer of Hairspray, Catch Me If You Can, and the first season of TV's Smash, clearly not his best work despite the song changes from the London to the Broadway productions.

BWW Review: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at Théâtre Du Gymnase

Despite mixed reviews, the original london production directed by Sam Mendes, broke box office records at the Drury Lane Theatre in 2013, lasting three years and seven months. Finally arriving on Broadway in 2017 with new direction by Jack O'Brian and choreography by Josh Bergasse, Charlie fared less well across the pond and closed after just nine months, despite a great Christian Borle as Willy Wonka. After a US tour, an Australian version was produced in January 2019, followed by the first two non-English productions in Milan and Norway in November 2019. This French-adaptation is the third foreign version, ending up as more of children's musical, as is too often the case in Paris. Unlike in the original London production, the character of Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, and Veruca Salt are played by children, as is of course Charlie, played by Gaspard Estève, who despite some vocal ability is not always focused on his character when not speaking.

BWW Review: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at Théâtre Du Gymnase Seen in La Cages aux Folle at Théâtre Mogador in 1999 and Spamalot at Théâtre Comédia in 2010 and trained at Cours Florent, Arnaud Denissel delivers a fine performance as Willy Wonka, largely inspired by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's movie remake. Jean-Pierre Raphaël Duclos makes a convincing Grandpa Joe, and Marlène Conan, musical theater veteran in Paris (Roxie in Chicago, Ann in La Cage aux folles, Meg in The Phantom of the Opera, Ellie in Showboat, and Marie Robert in Sister Act) is unfortunately underused as Charlie's mother. Among the children, Antoine Degout stands out as Mike Teavee, the rock n' roll kid, and, amid the supporting character, Gregory Amsis (Piaf, je'taime, Shrek, The Full Monty) is amusing as Jerry Jubilee.

All in all, the cast is hardworking, doubling as ensemble members in the production numbers by television choreographer Cécile Chaduteau, whose musical theater debut is quite satisfying, although certain numbers are sometimes marred by the costumes by Sylvain Rigault (from the Atelier du reveur). The Oompa Loompas' costumes were so bulky they masked the dancing, and Veruca Salt's worn-out dress had visible tears. Some of Emmanuelle Favre's set designs can be clumsy at times, especially Charlie's household. However, the lighting by Jacques Rouveyrollis and Jessica Duclos and the video projection by Jérôme Ledoux are quite effective.

BWW Review: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at Théâtre Du Gymnase Like in most French musicals, outside those at Mogador, Châtelet, and Marigny, the sound is slightly overamplified, and producer-turned-director/adapter Philippe Hersen clearly did a better job adapting and staging Flashdance, also at the Théatre du Gymnase in 2017 (whose opening special effect of a curtain disappearance is repeated here) and mostly in his very entertaining Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at the Casino de Paris in 2018. Nevertheless, in the overcrowded field of children's musical each fall in Paris, it is good to have one genuine musical with a West End and Broadway pedigree, as witnessed by the original artwork in the poster! Still, in the overcrowded field of children's musical each fall in Paris, it is good to have one genuine musical with a West End and Broadway pedigree, as witness the original poster artwork! Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, like Sister Act, Pretty Woman and many other filmploxtation musicals, belongs to a category that we could refer to as McMusicals, delivering what the fans of the movies would expect, nothing less but certainly never anything more, as witnessed here in its heavy handed and overly expositional first act, which its Broadway production apparently didn't manage to fix; In spite of it all, this long overdue Charlie and chocolate factory at the Théâtre du Gymnase is still at the top of the basket for family musical entertainment fare this Paris fall season.

Watch the trailer.


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