Review Roundup: The National Tour of CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY - What Did the Critics Think?
The chocolate factory is coming to a city near you! The tour for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has made stops in Cincinnati, Toronto, Boston and more!
Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tells the story of Willy Wonka, world famous inventor of the Everlasting Gobstopper, who has just made an astonishing announcement. His marvelous-and mysterious-factory is opening its gates...to a lucky few. That includes young Charlie Bucket, whose life definitely needs sweetening. He and four other golden ticket winners will embark on a mesmerizing, life-changing journey through Wonka's world of pure imagination. Get ready for Oompa-Loompas, incredible inventions, the great glass elevator, and more, more, more at this everlasting showstopper!
With direction by three-time Tony Award winner Jack O'Brien, Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory features music by Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award winner Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Grammy and Tony Award winners Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, a book by Artistic Director of Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum theatre David Greig, choreography by Tony Award nominee and Emmy Award winner Joshua Bergasse and includes additional songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley from the 1971 Warner Bros. motion picture.
Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory features scenic and costume design by five-time Tony Award nominee Mark Thompson, lighting design by four-time Tony Award nominee Japhy Weideman, sound design by Andrew Keister, projection design by Jeff Sugg, puppet and illusion design by Obie and Drama Desk Award winner Basil Twist, orchestrations by three-time Tony Award winner Doug Besterman and music supervision by Nicholas Skilbeck. Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is produced by Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures (Mark Kaufman), Langley Park Productions (Kevin McCormick) and Neal Street Productions (Sam Mendes, Caro Newling).
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Anne Simendinger, BroadwayWorld: 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!
No, distress comes in the form of Violet and Veruca's deaths, who are blown up and dismembered, respectively. I can't think of many musicals, especially ones intended for families, that show this sort of thing so graphically. At the performance I attended, children in the audience screamed and there were audible gasps from adults. This production was created in the UK in 2013, so perhaps the Brits enjoy subjecting their kids to ultra-violence onstage. But when combined with the candy-coloured strobe lights used during the show and the saccharine songs with lyrics so earnest you're guaranteed a toothache, it might just be too much.
Nancy Grossman, BroadwayWorld: 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.
John Harding, DC Metro Theater Arts:
Serving as the show's ideal twinkle-toed mix of genial goof and detached inquistioner is multi-talented Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka. He gets things off to a dreamy start with the essential "Candy Man," and later gives us an enchanting "Pure Imagination," the other Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse gem from the first movie. James Young proves another reliable source of comedy throughout as Charlie's Grandpa Joe. More critically, he brings the show a needed infusion of heart and sentiment in the number "Charlie, You & I."
Kristen Price, BroadwayWorld: As the Candy Man himself said, "come with me, and you'll see a world of pure imagination." It seems the writers and creatives behind CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY playing at the Hippodrome took this phrase to heart. On the basis of pure creativity and theatre magic, this show is a hit for young and old. These days, it's fun to have at least a singular moment of "I don't know how they managed to do that", however in this show particularly from the magic of a soaring paper airplane, to a child gobbled into a television set, there are many of these moments of amazement. And I'm sure the numerous children in the audience were completely taken by the sheer wonder of it.
With some songs from the film, the stage musical is a familiar journey for audiences. Willy Wonka hides five golden tickets in his chocolate bars, and children around the world scramble to unwrap one of them. With these tickets, the children are granted admission to Wonka's factory - a factory of his creation, which defies explanation. Unfortunately, that's where the similarities end and the discrepancies begin. As with any adaptation, changes are inevitable and expected; an adaptation gives its new author a chance to extend the magic of the content and even correct the mistakes of the original author. However, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory complicates the relationship with the audience and leaves more questions where no questions were before.
Channing Gray, Providence Journal: If you think "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is just for kids, you'd be right. But it's for the kid in all of us, the kid who can break the rules with a good heart, and who knows how to make something out of nothing. That's the lesson from a terrific, must-see musical version of Roald Dahl's whimsical, sometimes dark tale of Willy Wonka, the chocolate-making guru, and his most adoring fan, Charlie Bucket, the loser who becomes the show's big winner. "Charlie" runs through Sunday at the Providence Performing Arts Center.
Janine Weisman, The Newport Daily News: Other than "The Candy Man," the show's soundtrack isn't all that memorable. But the shock value of the story and the fantastical quality of the set's color and lighting in the second act sure are. The "pure imagination" forest is lush and vivid but the beautiful setting will turn to a horror show as soon as someone drinks from the chocolate waterfall when they're not supposed to.
Andria Tieman, BroadwayWorld: Benjamin Howes, as Willy Wonka, captured the smirking, vaguely unsettling spirit of Gene Wilder, but also very much makes this role his own. His singing voice is a strong, clear tenor that is a pleasure to listen to. He also does an excellent job of keeping his poker face throughout all of his interactions with the children. As the other kids act deplorably during the factory tour, Wonka warns them once to stop, and then just hangs back waiting to see what will happen. Those who know the story know that everything works out well for Charlie in the end, but the specific ways we get to that resolution are slightly different, and Howes never tips his hand, which is interesting and makes the story feel new.
Susie Potter, Triangle Arts & Entertainment: The world of Wonka is designed colorfully and fantastically. And, while to say too much would be to give away the delightful surprises of the second act, key moments include Mike Teavee's amazing "transformation," Violet's "bloating," and, especially, Veruca's...coming apart. These crazy scenes unfold without a hitch, often leaving viewers shocked and in true wonderment. If the original film was put on steroids and then freaked out times ten, it could almost compare to the amazement this production provides.
Lauren Van Hemert, BroadwayWorld: Maybe it's the contrast between Mark Thompson's jewel-toned set and costumes and Jeff Sugg's effective psychedelic projections that effectively breathes life into the world that is Wonka. I'm not a fan of projected images on stage, but in this context, the screen projections are dazzling and enhance the storytelling. And Basil Twist's imaginative award-winning puppetry design does bring the Oompa Loompas to life in a way that may have you dissecting how it's done. And some of Joshua Bergasse's choreography, a hybrid of dance styles, is awfully clever.
Patrick Berry, The Westfield News: The touring production at The Bushnell through Sunday is engaging, and much better than the word-of-mouth coming from those who saw it on Broadway. Mark Thompson's sets and costumes are eye-catching, and Jeff Sugg's projections are dazzling. Joshua Bergasse's choreography, particularly for the Oompa Loompas is superb. "Venica's Nutcracker Sweet", danced by Jessica Cohen as a bratty Russian child ballerina and squirrels is, a the Candy Man states, "satisfying and delicious".
Christopher Arnott, Hartford Courant: "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" doesn't need to preach that families matter, or that candy tastes good. The show doesn't hit its stride until the second act, when the kids (and their underwritten parents) finally enter the factory. This is a tale of greed, power, youthful rebellion and creepy authority figures who can't be trusted. It's best when it's got bite.
It's a bitter pill to take for me to say that "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," the national tour of the Broadway musical currently making a stop at The Bushnell through Sunday, is a disappointing show. I, like many others, grew up and cherished the 1964 Roald Dahl children's novel and the 1971 film adaptation, "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," that starred Gene Wilder as the slightly mad, titular candy man. Less said about the 2005 Tim Burton-directed film adaptation, the better.
Michael J. Moran, In The Spotlight, Inc: While some antics in Act II may disturb the youngest viewers, eye-popping projection design by Jeff Sugg, astonishing "puppet and illusion design" (for Wonka's "oompa loompa" employees) by Basil Twist, exhilarating choreography by Joshua Bergasse, and joyous direction by Jack O'Brien will captivate children of all ages who see this engaging production.
Paul Lamar, The Daily Gazette: Act II is technically stunning. Nominations and awards for the London and Broadway productions have focused on costumes, set, lighting, sound, and puppetry, with good reason. Wait till you see, for example, the Oompa Loompas (for the uninitiated, they're the unusual-looking and mischievous workers in Willy's factory---think precursors to the Minions in the "Despicable Me" franchise), and when they appeared, the audience applauded. Congrats to Basil Twist for his concept and the ensemble for their spot-on execution.
Brett Burger, BroadwayWorld: While it isn't my favorite movie, I am a fairly fond of the original movie. It's nostalgic, fun, imaginative and just an entertaining movie. Knowing that I had some expectations going in, especially to see the set and what would be created on stage. Sadly I was fairly disappointed with not only the set but the show overall especially when the musical has such rich material to go off of from the book and even two movie adaptations. It failed to be nominated for any Tony Awards.
Basil Considine, Twin Cities Arts Reader: Arguably the greatest sin of the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp musical film was that its songs were instantly forgotten, and just not super fun in the moment. The stage musical now playing at the Orpheum does not have this problem - there are definitely some songs that you can leave the theatre humming, and discussing favorite moments is sure to be an entertaining diversion with friends. And, yes, your favorite Bricusse/Newly songs "Pure Imagination" and "The Oompa Loompa Songs" from the 1971 Gene Wilder film are definitely there. No cavities required.
It features an adorable performance by talented child actor Rueby Wood in the title role. It has a visually and aurally striking scene about "Pure Imagination." And the Oompa Loompas, the little people who make up the near-magical workforce of a certain chocolate plant, are fetching and funny, even if they toil in what looks like a treat-making sweatshop. But otherwise, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which opened Wednesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, is largely a dud. Especially in the first act.
Erin Conley, On Stage & Screen: Weisberg in particular has excellent timing and has found a version of the quirky, quietly diabolical Wonka that is different from Gene Wilder's iconic performance while still in keeping with the spirit of the part. The music is forgettable, and despite the too-long build up to get to the chocolate factory, once there the action, directed by Jack O'Brien, still manages to be mostly anticlimactic. Although the gruesome fate of greedy Augustus Goop should be a lesson in not daring to want more, a world of pure imagination this musical is not, and those hoping for a satisfyingly sweet experience would be better off looking elsewhere.
Despite the production's fumbles, the source material - and memories of it in other versions - seem to keep much of the audience happy, and lots of theatergoers bring kids. Maybe the sight of all those sweets is bliss enough. The show's truest line is Wonka's declaration that chocolate is "quite simply, the greatest invention in the entire history of the world."
Don Grigware, BroadwayWorld: Under the brilliant direction of Jack O'Brien and aided by the magnificent choreography of Joshua Bergasse, the entire 36 member cast do triple threat work. Standouts include Weisberg as Willie Wonka, Boshart as the lovable Charlie, and James Young so delightful as Grandpa Joe, who has lived his whole life in a dream world and who willingly forces himself out of his deathbed to accompany Charlie on this precious journey. Also worthy of mention are Amanda Rose as the hard working and caring single mom Mrs. Bucket...and especially Madeleine Doherty as Mrs. Teavee who gets through her day with an excess of booze and pill popping. Doherty turns in an hysterically fun yet real and gritty performance.
Its performers are indeed at the top of their games. And they loft this production into the starry skies that Charlie and Willy Wonka eventually rise through in one of the shows' many show-stopping, heart-stopping moments. Imagination is the theme of this musical. The show's creatives used their imaginations well. The book by David Greig, lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, and music by Shaiman turn a children's book into a multidimensional treat.
Kennedy Hill, Daily Bruin: While certain changes to the story, like Wonka's role as the shopkeeper, were debatable in their success, other twists in the production worked out much better. Factory guests Violet Beauregarde (Brynn Williams) and her father (David Samuel) - originally a white family - were instead portrayed as a black duo, adding refreshing and necessary diversity to the show's cast. Comedic references to the "The Lion King" and Apple TV helped the production better relate to the audience and made the narrative feel more engaging in present times. Though these references weren't compatible with the implied time period, their integration into the dialogue as quick asides prevented them from creating inconsistencies within the narrative.
Imaan Jalali, LAexcites: Although it's virtually impossible to compete with Gene Wilder's portrayal, Noah Weisberg fills Wonka's shoes with sartorial flair and unstoppably energetic gusto. Weisberg's Wonka is zanier and more unpredictable than ever - as we wouldn't have it any other way - while also being genuinely heartfelt and humorous. His Wonka is able to shift gears in an impressive instant, like in "Strike That, Reverse It," as he is serious one moment and awesomely goofy the next - never more so than when interacting with his pint-sized, sing-song minions.
Linda Hodges, BroadwayWorld: The magic of the show is largely due to the enticing stagecraft of Lighting Designer Japhy Weideman, enchanting Projections by Jeff Sugg and hilarious and whimsical puppetry by Basil Twist. Twist's Oompa Loompa's (Joshua Bergasse's choreography is nothing short of brilliant) bring down the house and without them, it's doubtful that the factory tour would hold a child's attention for long, edible flowers and chocolate waterfall notwithstanding.
While the story goes in some directions with these kids in the form of irreverent humor, it is handled with a cartoony flair. These awful kids blow up, dance too fast, melt into fountains, all of it. It's a tricky balance for sure, having to stay true to the very popular original source material, the classic 1964 children's book by Roald Dahl. While the cartoony violence may not be to everyone's taste, director Jack O'Brien really handles this hint of a conundrum quite succinctly. Action moves fast, paced with plenty of deliberate nonsense, which keeps the show appropriate for all without compromising its edge.
This stage rendition of Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is pure magic. It's a delectable treat made of mesmerizing lighting, fantastic costumes, and memorable music. This off-beat musical puts a candy-coating on warnings against egotism and self-indulgence, using a spooky lens. Noah Weisberg's Willy Wonka dazzles in black top hat, purple velour jacket, and green plaid trousers. Weisberg lands his delicious, snarky retorts every time. When asked where he's been for years, he simply mutters: "No one called, no one came by..."
Leslie Katz, San Francisco Examiner: There's little emphasis on the actual candy amid the annoying, pumped-up characters, particularly winners of the prized tickets who get to tour inside Wonka's secret factory: Gluttonous Augustus Gloop, from Bavaria, gorges on sausage; rich and rude Veruca Salt is inexplicably a ballet dancer; gum-chewer Violet Beauregarde is also hip-hop artist; and obsessive Mike Teavee's mother is a seeming alcoholic. But why? And the wacky details of their demise, as their bad behavior takes them down, one by one, don't amuse.
James Hebert, The San Diego Union-Tribute:
David Greig's story adaptation, though, is hit-and-miss at capturing Dahl's whimsy and his signature mix of heart and gallows humor. When Charlie's fellow contestants fall victim to their own selfishness and greed, the setups seem a little more sadistic than necessary - and this Wonka plays for keeps. In looks, the show is like a velvety chocolate cream. In tone, it's a little brittle.
Brynn Williams as the gum-chewing mega star brings extra sass and her dance crew, and her dad brings the best line, "She exploded..." Daniel Quadrio as the game and TV obsessed Mike Teavee is nimble and nasty, and every kid that attends will want him as a tiny action figure. How they shrunk him is a marvel. James Young plays a demented and loving Grandpa Joe with aplomb, and affirms the importance of grandparents. Still, it's a fable. We can't ignore Dahl's sharp commentary on poor families, sickly senior citizens, bratty rich kids, helicopter parents, overworked mothers, and cruel factory owners.
Lance Carter, Daily Actor: The show really kicks into gear when winners are introduced. There's energy and mayhem, especially when the full cast is on stage. But, the real stars of the show are the set, lighting and costume designers - Mark Thompson, Japhy Weideman, Andrew Keister and Jeff Sugg. The set, along with the lights, is all 3D imagery and brilliant colorful lights that enhances each and every scene. The costumes pop-off the stage, with their bright and vibrant colors.
Michael Quintos, BroadwayWorld: Suffice it to say that despite its general pleasant nature, many cute moments, and a plethora of genuine talent on stage, this stage adaptation---now continuing performances at Segerstrom Center for the Arts through June 9---comes off less magical and whimsical than one would hope it would be considering its source material. Is this national tour production joyful enough for kids and kids-at-heart to enjoy? Sure. But, overall, something about it feels just slightly under-baked, as if all the additional necessary ingredients that would have made this musical extraordinary didn't quite make it into the mix.
The cast's performance is hilarious across the board, but Brynn Williams' depiction of Violet Beauregarde, the gum-loving "queen of pop" truly stands out. Williams' brings an energy that is as grand as Willy Wonka's and steals the show along with co-star David Samuel, who plays Mr. Beauregarde. But this story would not be complete without the iconic Oompa Loompas. The Oompa Loompas are portrayed by various cast members and, again with the help of effects, the play brings the short race of genius workers into a remarkable ensemble.
It's the production's technical effects that are truly eye candy. Bright colors, bold set pieces and a few tricks keep the show moving magically throughout the action. It's smarty whimsical and the design stands out from many of the modern musicals you've seen lately. The entire cast gives entertaining characterizations. Weisberg's Wonka has a lot of heart, but you still get to see his signature snarky side inside the factory. Wood's Charlie is enthusiastic and genuine, which really is the core of the story.
Beki Pineda, GetBoulder: This is a bright and beautiful production which will delight the children in your family while engaging the adults in the multilayered moral lessons being taught from Dahl's source material. It combines aspects of both the Gene Wilder version and the later Johnny Depp/Tim Burton movie while creating an all new theatrical version. Four years in London and nine months on Broadway allowed the producers to refine the confectionery tale down to its sweet essence and save the best for the current touring version.
Noah Weisberg has a better singing voice than Gene Wilder but his Wonka often seems modeled on Wilder's performance. At other times, Weisberg's Wonka reminded me of Jeff Goldblum, but fortunately, there is almost nothing of Johnny Depp's wrong kind of creepy from the 2005 movie. Although grave errors were made in that film, at least Tim Burton had a consistent aesthetic, which this production - which never seems able to settle on a tone - could have used. Sophisticated digital elements jostle against old-school stage tricks; Looney Tunes wackiness bumps up against sideways social commentary. Like the eclectic selections on a candy-store shelf, individual elements work, but don't always work together.
Jay Irwin, BroadwayWorld: The ensemble completely commits to the outrageous tone of the world. Rueby Wood (the Charlie on the night I saw) has a great voice and holds his own with all the adults on stage. Weisberg manages a wonderfully goofy Wonka and amps up the snark factor of the role quite well (although no one will ever compare to Wilder). Rose brings in a quite touching lullaby with Charlie and one of the more heartfelt moments of the show. Young makes for a quite likable Grandpa Joe. The remaining "kids" and their parents all bring their own special and wonderful brand of crazy to the night.
Robert Ham, Portland Mercury: Everything else about this musical felt like it was straining to stay relevant. Violet Beauregarde (Brynn Williams) is reimagined as a gum chewing social media maven that calls herself "The Queen of Pop." Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino) is now a snotty gamer with ADHD who gets stuffed with meds by his boozehound mom (Madeleine Doherty). Songs associated with these two kid characters have also been modernized to a fault-there's a decent bit of Broadway funk to introduce Violet, but an embarrassing glitch-house tune to score Mike's televisual comeuppance.
Wayne Lee Gay, TheaterJones: Director Jack O'Brien and choreographer Joshua Bergasse create nonstop energy in this fantasy world, backed up by sets and costumes that capture the bizarre playfulness of Quentin Blake's illustrations for the novel. The score, here performed with a compact, efficient orchestra conducted by Charlie Alterman, flows smoothly and busily. Like a bag full of sticky treats, this latest musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is tempting and, ultimately, not very healthful.
Zac Thriffiley, BroadwayWorld: The remainder of the production's artistic and design elements are, like the show itself, a mixed bag. Joshua Bergasse's choreography makes for one of the strongest aspects of the musical, mixing styles as varied as ballet, German polka, and hip-hip to create impressive visual pictures. Mark Thompson's costume designs are similarly wondrous, updating the characters' looks for the 21stcentury while still hearkening back to their previous iterations. Less imaginative is that the set is dominated by countless LED screens, which project images to transport the characters from scene to scene rather than allowing set pieces to do the work instead.
The Oompa Loompas, crafted by puppetry designer Basil Twist, are the highlight of the production and an audience favorite. The entire energy in the audience changes with each appearance from the iconic and boisterous people from Loompa Land. Despite its missteps, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is enjoyable for families and all who love the classic story.
Noah Weisberg's Willy Wonka is more mysterious than creepy, which is refreshing. He comes from the New York production and plays Wonka as more mad genius than pied piper, landing his jokes just right for kids of all ages. His random kicks, twists and quirks add an extra layer of humor. Projections designer Jeff Sugg deserves accolades for creating a 4-D feeling in a 2-D world. His mountains and butterflies in the factory-arrival scene could seemingly burst from the stage, and he takes us under the sea when the factory visitors sail in bathtubs. Puppetry designer Basil Twist creates delicious Oompa Loompas that are both adorable and demented.
In the second act, puppetry, lighting, and video projections create enchanted special effects to make the fantastical world inside the chocolate factory come to life in vivid spectacular colors. Wonka's peculiar, whimsical, albeit God-like, side is revealed. He is judge and jury of the children who disobey. Without giving too much away, each spoiled brat meets his maker. The image that will haunt my nightmares is Veruca gracefully leaping across the stage, a dance partner to human-size squirrels and then.... "Veruca's Nutcracker Suite" is an expected scene you won't soon forget.