BWW Review: ROALD DAHL'S CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY at SHN's Golden Gate Theatre
Beloved children's author Roald Dahl's oft-reimagined story, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes to life as a Broadway show that surprises, delights and sometimes disturbs its mostly youngish audience members. With a book by David Greig and new music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (that compliment tunes from the original film) "Charlie" is a curious mix of tedious exposition in Act I followed by whimsy and wondrous special effects in Act II.
The story is familiar. Young Charlie Bucket (played charmingly by Henry Boshart on opening night) lives with his mother (Amanda Rose) and two sets of grandparents in abject poverty. Meals consist mostly of moldy cabbage purchased from the cart of Mrs. Green (Clyde Voce). The family lives in the shadow of Willy Wonka's mysterious Chocolate Factory and Charlie dreams of meeting Mr. Wonka (Noah Weisberg delights) and eating chocolate to his heart's content. He'll get his chance when he's one of five lucky children to discover a golden ticket in their respective Wonka chocolate bars. The ticket grants a child and an adult entrance into the Chocolate Factory, with the mysterious chocolatier himself guiding them on a tour.
Each of the winners has their own intro song where we learn about who they are. Augustus Gloop (Matt Wood) from Bavaria loves to eat. Apparently, it's still okay to make fun of a kid's size because his propensity for sausages and chocolate gets big laughs from the audience. Veruca Salt (Jessica Cohen), Violet Beauregarde (Brynn Williams) and Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino) are all spoiled and demanding, which leaves loveable Charlie as the child of choice. At base, the story is a cautionary tale about what happens to incorrigible kids. (Caution: All but Charlie suffer various horrible fates!)
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.
Inconsistencies in the show force you to suspend belief for all the wrong reasons. Mike Teavee's marvelous mom (played wonderfully by Madeleine Doherty) is a sauced 1950's housewife, while gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde is an internet sensation whose father films her on his smartphone. I'm not sure why Mrs. Green's Cabbage cart is where Charlie ultimately buys his winning chocolate bar when it could just as easily have been from the chocolate store in his town, but as one of the songs says, "It must be believed to be seen!"
And it should be seen. Because, as the great Wonka says, "There is no / life I know/ to compare with pure imagination." So, pack up the kids and head to San Francisco's Golden Gate Theater to see Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's like winning your own golden ticket.
Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Book by David Greig
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Directed by Jack O'Brien
Golden Gate Theatre, San Francisco
Running time: 2 Hours, 30 minutes; includes 1 intermission
Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus