BWW Review: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at Orpheum Theatre Memphis
Unlike many of the shows that are currently running, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory strikes the heart with nostalgia. Whether it's from the classic book written by Roald Dahl and published in 1964, the beloved film starring Gene Wilder, released in 1971, or most recently, the 2005 film adaptation starring Johnny Depp. For me, it was all three.
I was quite the dreamer as a child. And for dreamers, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a perfect escape from reality. After all, who doesn't dream of a once-in-a-lifetime tour of the world's most magical candy factory?!
I actually had the opportunity to see a Broadway performance of Charlie in January 2018, just before it closed.
The major difference between the Broadway performances and the national tours is the LED Projections, used all over the set. This show depends on the projected images to tell the story and honestly, I found it quite distracting. The set is minimal, with two major pieces that are present in Act I. In Act II, once we finally journey inside Willy Wonka's legendary chocolate factory, we have to use our imaginations (cue "Pure Imagination"). The two little girls sitting in front of me, squealing in delight, made me smile, despite my confusion about the projections.
A friend of mine asked me beforehand, "do we really have to wait until Act II for the magic?" Though the first act is admittedly less exciting than the second (we have to build up the story, after all) there are some pleasant moments in Act I that we don't see in Act II, my favorite being the sugar-coated melodies of Caitlin Lester Sams, who plays Charlie Bucket's mother. There are some tender family moments between Charlie (played by both Brody Bett and Ryan Umbarila, alternating between performances), Charlie's mother, and his elderly grandparents, who all sleep in one bed.
Comedy is abundant in this show, as the golden ticket-winners and their parents sing about their sweet (and not so sweet) lives around the world while Willy Wonka continues to both horrify and amaze his guests.
Much of the magic on the stage comes from Willy Wonka himself, portrayed by Cody Garcia. The role on Broadway was portrayed by Tony-award winner Christian Borle, who received widespread praise even amongst the negative reviews that the show received. Garcia's voice is smooth as chocolate and pleasant to listen to, while his comedic timing is on point. Theatre- goers will be thrilled when Garcia opens the show with the iconic tune, "The Candy Man", which was written specifically for the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The nostalgia returns when Garcia sings "Pure Imagination" in Act II, another song written for the 1971 film.
One thing I did notice is that many of the jokes and punchlines became lost, which is sometimes common for actors who use dialects. Enunciation is key, especially with a large cast, and there was not a lot to be found in this production.
Overall, David Grieg's book, along with Marc Shaiman's and Scott Wittman's music, make for a fun family show with plenty of laughs. The audience will leave with some sweet memories. It's not to be taken seriously; just a lighthearted piece of art with vibrant costumes, a very diverse range of music, a few dark moments sprinkled here and there, dancing squirrels, and of course, singing oompa-loompas!
Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is a treat for the whole family, and runs at the Orpheum from January 14th- 19th.