Latest Roald Dahl Musical is More Frightening than Fun
Matilda, the stage show based on the movie and taken from Roald Dahl’s book, was a big hit. I enjoyed the dark humour which made Matilda funny when it was on stage in Toronto in the 2016 Mirvish presentation. But that dark humour doesn’t translate well in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, another Roald Dahl story now on stage at Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre.
If you aren’t familiar with the children’s book, you might know the two movies that have been based on the book. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory came out in 1971 with Gene Wilder playing the eccentric Willy Wonka. Later, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, starring Johnny Depp as a slightly creepy Willy Wonka, hit cinemas in 2005.
The new musical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, tells the story of a poor little boy, Charlie Bucket, who lives with his tired mother and his four grandparents. The grandparents, by the way, all sleep in the same bed and spend their days there too. Willy Wonka, a very strange man, lives in the same town and operates a chocolate factory. Apparently, Willy goes undercover to manage a candy store, too. Children are encouraged to buy Wonka chocolate bars, which may contain a golden ticket to allow them to visit the Chocolate Factory. Five lucky children get tickets, but they are all greedy, spoiled brats except poor little Charlie.
In Act One we meet all five children, and then in Act Two, which takes place in the chocolate factory, they are all eliminated except for our favourite, Charlie. So the plot seems a little weak, without much story, other than building dislike of the four other kids and their parents.
The music is not memorable. In fact, the only enjoyable tunes are “The Candy Man”, “Pure Imagination” and “The Oompa Loompa Song”, all of which date back to the 1971 movie. “The Candy Man” is better known for being a number one hit for Sammy Davis Jr. Newer songs written for this musical just aren’t impressive.
It is the Oompa Loompas that save the audience from boredom. A cross between a puppet and an amazing costume, the Oompa Loompas are tiny characters played by the ensemble members on their hands and knees while manipulating the small creature-like puppets, revealing the actors’ own faces. The well-timed choreography is extraordinary and the Oompa Loompas get the biggest laughs in the show.
Unfortunately, the dark humour is not adequately enlightening, and the moral of the story is lost in the repulsive destruction of the brats. Having characters dismembered or blown apart on stage isn’t funny, just rather sickening, and I would worry about how scary it would be for children.
Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka does the best he can with the strange character. If Willy is the benevolent character he is supposed to be, Weisberg makes him a little too harsh or rude at times. The role of Charlie is played by three different child actors, at different performances. There was no notice in the program to tell us which young actor we were seeing. The other four children were played by adults.
Overall, this touring show is disappointing. The plot fails, and it seems like the cast members know it. While some performances are lacklustre, others go too far over the top.
Recently, there has been some discussion about whether or not every musical should get a standing ovation at the end. It seems to happen routinely nowadays. Sometimes, when I see a show, I instinctively jump to my feet, without even thinking about it – it must be a great production, with superior acting, singing and dancing, where the cast is giving it their all. Other times, I stand up after some hesitation, but I still feel the show is worthwhile. Then there are the times I feel I have to get up, just because everyone around me is standing. And then there are rare occasions where I have made up my mind during the show that I’m not going to stand. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of those times. And the rest of the theatre agreed with me. Only a handful of people were on their feet at the end of this show. So standing ovations aren’t routine after all.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory continues with eight shows a week at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto until January 6. Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets
Photo: Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka and company. Photo by Joan Marcus
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Book by David Greig
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Songs from the motion picture by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley
Directed by Jack O’Brien
Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse
Musical supervision by Nicholas Skilbeck
Performed by Noah Weisberg et al
Presented by David Mirvish
Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto
November 20, 2018 to January 6, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson