BWW Review: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at Det Norske Teatret - Highly Imaginative Musical With Strong, Solid Performances.
Det norske teatret seems to have a profound love for musicals where naughty children get their just deserves through different imaginative means, and having previously done "Shock Headed Peter" they are very experienced in that department. Their latest outing "Charlie and the Chocolate factory" is big, extravagant and highly entertaining. The two leads, Peter Andreas Hjellnes (Charlie) and Fridtjof Sensæth Josefsen (Willy Wonka), carry the show splendidly on their shoulders.
Conceptually this is a musical that is in need of some re-writing (both in the text and score). Yes, it has some beautiful tunes, yet it loses its footing during the second act. Too many genres of music are chaotically blended together without much thought. A far cry from Shaiman and Wittman's other accomplishments like "Hairspray". Despite its flaws, the production "almost" manages to conceal this through strong perfomances, solid stage design, beautiful costumes, solid direction and fun choreography.
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is based on the 1964 children's novel of the same name by Roald Dahl, with book by David Greig, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The musical premiered in London's West End in 2013 and ran for almost four yers. In 2017 the show was reworked for a Broadway production (adding several more songs from the popular Gene Wilder movie). It ran for almost nine months. The reviews were far more negative than they had been for the London production. Det norske teatret's production is based on the reworked Broadway version, with some minor adjustments (Brexit and Trump to name a few) and several deletions. Sadly removing "The Candy Man Can".
Norwegians have always held Roald Dahl's stories dear to their hearts and feel a certain ownership (since the authors parents were both Norwegian). The plot is well known: 11-year-old Charlie Bucket (Peter Andreas Hjellnes) lives in poverty in a small house with his mother (Ingrid Jørgensen Dragland) and four grandparents. One day, Grandpa Joe (Pål Christian Eggen) tells him about the legendary and eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka (Fridtjof Sensæth Josefsenand) all the wonderful candies he made until the other candymakers sent in spies to steal his secret recipes, which led him to close the factory to outsiders. The next day, the news announces that Wonka is reopening the factory and has invited five children to come on a tour, after they find a Golden Ticket in a Wonka Bar. The first four golden tickets are found by the gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Kristoffer Olsen), the spoiled and petulant Veruca Salt (Catharina Vu), the chewing gum-addicted Violet Beauregarde (Tiril Heide-Steen) and the gaming-obsessed Mike Teavee (Hans Magnus Hildershavn Rye). One day, Charlie sees a gold coin buried in the snow. He buys a Wonka Bar and finds the fifth and final golden ticket. The ticket says he can bring one or two family members with him and Charlie's parents decide to allow Grandpa Joe to go with him. Together they embark on a fantastical journey into the imaginative world of Willy Wonka.
The show is performed by a very talented ensemble, who does most out of the material, and they all get their moment to shine. This marks the stage debut of Fridtjof Sensæth Josefsen as Willy Wonka. I have a tendency (and rightly so) to be rather skeptical when producers cast people with "next to none prior experience" in musical theatre, but nothing makes me happier than seeing them succeed. What a debut!! When Josefsen is on stage he commands the attention of both his co-players as well as the audience. His voice, diction and comical timing are all faultless. Especially his vocal range is very impressive. The dance-like movements are also very fitting to the character. Josefsen's portrayal of Wonka is eccentric but never becomes overly creepy, thank goodness.
Peter Andreas Hjellnes is outstandingas Charlie Bucket. He plays the part with lots of heart, compassion and warmth. Vocally the part is very demanding for a child, but he sings the part without it ever feeling forced or strained. During the first act he is the driving force of the show along with Grandpa Jo, played by Pål Christian Eggen. He does a magnificent job. It is evident that Eggen finds the part pleasurable, and he propels the show forward.
The other children (or gold ticket winners) are played by adults (as it was done in the Broadway-production), and I personally prefer it that way. Kristoffer Olsen does a whimsical borderline hyperactive Augustus Gloop. He owns the stage during the number "More of Him to Love". Catharina Vu gives a delightfully spoilt and nasty portrayal of Veruca Salt. Boy, what a scream! In addition I would like to especially highlight Tiril Heide-Steen's performance as Violet Beauregarde. She has a very impressive belting voice, and her take on the part was "spot on". She chewed the scenery as well as her gum with her big number "The Queen of Pop". Rounding off the "children" is the gaming-obsessed Mike. Hans Magnus Hildershavn Rye gives an aggressively pubertal depiction of Mike Teavee, which has the potential of becomming irritating, but he manages to find a fine balance in his take on the role, so it is always in good fun. His range is also very impressive.
Of the parents special mention must go to Christian Kallum. He does a very entertaining portrayal as the slightly drunk Mrs. Teavee. And their number "What Could Possibly Go Wrong?" was hilarious. In addition Paul Ottar Haga, Geir Kvarme and Ellen Birgitte Winther all give solid portrayals as the rest of the parents. Ingrid Jørgensen Dragland gives a tender performance as Charlies mother. Vocally the role is a little to demanding for her, especially during "If Your Father Were Here" but she saves it through her expressive and emotional acting.
Vidar Magnussen has once again proved that he is very talented director. He infuses a lot of his own humor into the show, and it is very welcomed, especially since the source material is not especially strong. It is a very busy show with lots of movement, and in lesser hands it could easily become overly messy, but choreographer Belinda Braza has done a magnificent job of "making sense in all the madness" that transpires on stage. Especially the choreography of the Oompa-Loompas was very well crafted.
Gjermund Andresen's Stage design is ingenious and inventive, and utilizes his signature style of combining forced perspective with triangular shapes. On a scale from on to ten his creativity goes to "eleven" after the characters enter Willy Wonka's world of "pure imagination." With exotic plants, giant travellators and some really creepy looking squirrels. Also very impressive was "flying" glass elevator during the show's grand finale. It is hard not compare the design to Tim Burton's movie, but I feel Andersen's creations stands firmly on their own two feet.
Christina Lovery's costumes are also spectacular, and the design style of the individual characters amplify their personalities very well. Especially impressive is wannabe celebrity Violet Beauregarde's costume that inflates after she eats Wonka's chewing gum.
My big gripe with this production was the sound. Especially the orchestra sounded like it was boxed in, and none of the acoustic elements of the instruments were audible. I really don't understand the need to place the orchestra upstage, and not in the pit where they belong. It is impressive to have a 12 piece orchestra, and all the more saddening that it sounds like a playback track in the auditorium. The audience deserves to hear a blend of the acoustic along with the amplified.
Despite the evident flaws in the source material det norske teatret have presented a highly imaginative production of "Charlie and the chocolate factory" and it is perfect for both younger children and even children who have turned 40.
All photos by Erik Berg