It's been many years since I've read or watched any version of this story, so I can't say exactly what has changed in this version. Perhaps that's part of why I enjoyed it; I don't have much of an attachment to the original. This version of the story is set in modern times and includes references to Instagram, YouTube, and smart phones, which I think works well and makes it more relatable for today's kids. The first act introduces us to Charlie living with his hard-working single mother and four bed-ridden grandparents. He befriends the proprietor of a candy shop, who turns out to be Willy Wonka in disguise. The Golden Ticket contest is revealed, and Charlie gets more and more disheartened as four winners (all spoiled, obnoxious children of over-indulgent parents) are revealed. But as we knew he would, Charlie finds his Golden Ticket, catapulting us into the Chocolate Factory in Act II. The other four obnoxious children meet their gruesome ends in the factory, and our Charlie is left as the winner of the contest, becoming the next Willy Wonka. In this story, nice boys win.
|photo by Joan Marcus
On the night I saw the show, understudy Benjamin Howes filled in as Willy Wonka (a role usually played by Noah Weisberg). He's wonderful, funny, and charming with a definite Gene Wilder vibe. Three children alternate in the role of Charlie; I saw Reuby Wood and he more than held his own as the only child in the cast full of talented professionals. He's the heart of the show. Other highlights in the cast include James Young as the darling Grandpa Joe, Matt Wood as poor sausage-loving Augustus Gloop (although I have to say, the fat jokes are a little hard to take), Jessica Cohen as the spoiled ballerina Veruca on point, Brynn Williams as the gum-popping purple velour tracksuit-wearing Violet, and Daniel Quadrinao in a very physical performance as Mike Teevee.
While maybe not the most brilliant musical adaptation, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is fun and entertaining, clever and darkly funny at times, and well performed by the talented and diverse cast. See it at the Orpheum Theatre now through March 17.