BWW REVIEW: CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY Invites Sydney Audiences To Revisit Roald Dahl's Classic Tale Of Imagination And The Benefits Of Being Good
Friday 11th January 2019, 7pm, Capitol Theatre
Jack O'Brien's (Director) updated take on CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY: THE NEW MUSICAL arrives in Sydney with a celebration of sweetness and childhood fantasy. Drawing on Mel Stuart's famous movie, this is a trip down memory lane for many adults and a delightful introduction for the younger audience.
Many would be familiar with Roald Dahl's classic story of the impoverished child, Charlie Bucket (presented by Ryan Yeates on opening night with Oliver alkhair, Tommy Blair and Xion Jarvis alternating) discovering the final Golden ticket to tour the mysterious Wonka Chocolate Factory. The well mannered youngster and his dreamer Grandpa Joe (Tony Sheldon) are the last guests 'standing' at the end of the tour led by the mysterious confectioner, the eccentric Willy Wonka (Paul Slade Smith), and therefore winning the ultimate prize. Serving as a warning against greed, gluttony, bad manners, ego, elitism and arrogance, all traits displayed by the dispatched ticket holders, there is a dark reality of consequence behind the saccharine exterior.
The Sydney season in an adaptation of the 2017 Broadway version of the musical which first debuted in London in 2013 but underwent serious design changes under Jack O'Brien's new direction. The set is significantly pared back compared to the Sam Mendes' London production, relying on the audience imagination to fill in a lot more gaps. The aesthetic is decidedly modern for the most part with a heavy reliance on led screens for the backdrop and the stage legs and boarders and set pieces are much more compact and sterile expressions but there are elements that are oddly old school simple such as the curtain of brown fabric for the chocolate water fountain, more reminiscent of a high school musical than a Broadway mainstage production. Scenic designer Mark Thompson also draws on contemporary art for inspiration, the opening scrim bearing a silhouette reminiscent of Rene Magritte's surrealist paintings. The famous Oompa Loompas are presented with delightfully inventive puppetry, but the Broadway edit sees these characters remain constant throughout the story which leads to a degree of predictability and joke-fatigue. Whilst retaining much of David Greig (book), Marc Shaiman (Music & Lyrics) and Scott Wittman (Lyrics) the reworking is repositions the Leslie Bricusse and Antony Newley's recognizable songs from the movie, swaps out some songs from the 2013 production and alters some of the storyline, particularly in the first act.
With a predominantly Australian cast the story has been altered to allow for Charlie's family to be Australian whilst Willy Wonka is presented as American in line with Paul Slade Smith's American origin. The dialogue has been adapted for this location change with Tony Sheldon delivering some brilliant lines that appeal to the local audience. As with Dahl's original story, there is a multiculturalism about the work with the plus sized wurst eating Augustus Gloop (Jake Fehily) and his overindulgent mother Mrs Gloop (Octavia Barron Martin) from Bavaria; the Russian ballerina who had never heard No, Veruca Salt (Karina Russell) and her mobster father Mr Salt (Stephen Anderson); the Californian bubble gum popping Instagram star Violet Beauregard (Monette McKay) and her smooth father Mr Beauregard (Madison McKoy); and the violent screen addicted Iowan Mike Teavee (Harrison Riley) and his trapped in time self medicating mother Mrs Teavee (Jayde Westaby). Television presenters Cherry (Madison Green) and Jerry (Todd Goddard) are also presented as saccharine American stereotypes.
Paul Slade Smith is delightful as Willy Wonka, creating an endearing character. He delivers the character with a delicious glint in his eye and underlying manic expression and his Strike That! Reverse It! is delightfully insane in contrast to the tender wonder of Pure Imagination. Director O'Brien has potentially restrained Slade Smith from taking the character to the full extent of the reclusive genius' dark side which paired with his choice of how to represent the dispatch of the despicable children misses some of the opportunity to fully play up Dahl's dark humor.
Tony Sheldon is brilliant as Grandpa Joe. He has an ability to light up the stage even when confined to the loft bed that the four grandparents share. He infuses an excitement and energy to the old man making it easy to understand why Grandpa Joe is Charlie's favourite grandparent. For opening night Ryan Yeates won the golden ticket and presented a wonderful expression of the young child cognizant of his family's poverty and accepting it with grace whilst still having the imagination to dream.
Lucy Maunder as Mrs Bucket is sweet and caring as the struggling single mother (no explanation of where Mr Bucket has gone from the original story) and presents the role with a balanced accent and it is always a joy to hear Maunder sing. The grandparents are presented by Kanen Breen as Grandpa George, Danielle O'Malley as Grandma Josephine and Johanna Allen as Grandma Georgina. Whilst their roles are limited and they are restricted to the loft bed Breen stands out with his incredible ability to convey so much with his just his face as he presented an expression of a gaping grandfather reminiscent of Jim Henson's Yip Yip Martians.
The other golden ticket holders are presented as fabulous caricatures of everything vulgar and wrong with society, updated for modern vices of social media, cyber technology, pharmaceuticals, and the trend for parents to blindly ignore their offspring's obnoxious behavior instead encouraging the monsters without reproach. Of particular note is Karina Russell's en pointe expression of Veruca's Nutcracker Sweet and Madison McKoy and Monette McKay's LA Diva expression of Queen of Pop.
For those for which this production will be their introduction to CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY: THE NEW MUSICAL, this production is sweet but unfortunately is lacks some of the magic one would expect from a major musical production and particularly Roald Dahl's iconic story about fanciful ideas and wild imagination. For those that saw the London production, the contrasts are quite pronounced and it is perplexing as to why O'Brien changed the key elements of the show that worked, namely the staging and casting of children in the children's roles and more age appropriate performers in the roles of the grandparents. This aside, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY: THE NEW MUSICAL is an evening of light entertainment for the family which may also help in teaching children to be more like Charlie.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY: THE NEW MUSICAL
Photos: Jeff Busby