By Karen Isaacs
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, now at the Bushnell through February 24 is a delight for those who love the movie. It may not live up to all your childhood memories, particular of the original version with Gene Wilder, but it provides an enjoyable experience.
Even those who aren’t as familiar with the movies or who aren’t as enamored of them will enjoy the show.
This musical has undergone numerous changes – from the original London version which was proclaimed “dark” to the Broadway version that had only moderate success to this version. I’ll take the word of the director that this version is an improvement over what was seen on Broadway in 2017-18.
The two big hits songs from the movie, “Pure Imagination” and “The Candy Man” are both in the show though neither are given as prominent a production as you might expect. “Candy Man” opens the show but “Pure Imagination” seems a little hidden. Those two plus “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” and “The Oompa Loompa Song” are by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. The rest of the music is composed by Marc Shaiman with lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Witman. (Shaiman was part of the team behind Hairspray.)
The cast, the night I saw it, was led by Benjamin Howes as Willy Wonka and Henry Boshart as Charlie. Howes was the understudy for the usual Willy who was ill and Boshart is one of three boys who rotate in the role. While Howes was technical very good, he lacked some “star power” and energy. Boshart was delightful with an excellent voice.
The entire cast was very good but the standout performer was James Young as Grandpa Joe. Young captured the part and drew your attention; this may be due to the energy vacuum left by Howes.
But the performers playing the other four children (they are all played by adults) and their parents provide delightful moments of excess. Matt Wood as August Gloop, Jessica Cohen as Veruca Salt, Brynn Williams as Violet Beauregarde and Daniel Quadrino as Mike Teevee make each totally annoying as they are supposed to be. Their parents – Karen Hyland and Mrs. Gloop, Nathaniel Hackmann as Mr. Salt, David Samuel as Mr. Beauregarde and Madeleine Doherty as Mrs. Teevee get the most humor out of their exaggerated roles.
Production values for this national tour are very good, with creative use of projections in the candy garden, the elevators and rooftop sky and more. The handling of Violet’s demise is creative.
The set is mostly smaller modules that move on and off the stage; that hampers the scenes in the factory because you expect them to be more detailed. They seem simplistic.
One of the big questions for audiences may be how the oompa loompas are presented. It is done creatively even if the techniques have been used before. They are the faces of ensemble members who in dark outfits manipulate puppets. Every time they came on stage the audience was delighted.
Once again the sound design and the Bushnell sound system was inconsistent. For some performers and songs it was difficult to make out the lyrics; they sound like must, but at other times, particularly for Charlie, Willy and Grandpa Joe the sound was excellent.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not a great musical, but you will be entertained by it.
For tickets visit bushnell.org. or call 860-987-5900.