CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORYBased on the novel by Roald Dahl
Book by David Greig
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman & Marc Shaiman
AT&T Performing Arts Center
Directed by Jack O’Brien
Choreography by Joshua Bergasse
Scenic & Costume Design by Mark Thompson
Music Supervision—Nicholas Skilbeck
Executive Producers—Mark Kaufman, Kevin McCormick, Caro Newling
Music Direction—Charlie Alterman
Associate Director—Matt Lenz
Associate Choreographer—Alison Solomon
Production Stage Manager—Andrew Bacigalupo
Company Manager—Michael Camp
Exclusive Tour Direction—The Road Company
Hair, Wigs and Make Up—Campbell Young Associates
Music Coordinator—John Miller
Production Management—Juniper Street Productions
General Manger—Foresight Theatrical, Mark Shacket
Lighting Design—Japhy Weideman
Sound Design—Andrew Keister
Projection Design-Jeff Sugg
Puppet and Illusion Design—Basil Twist
Willy Wonka-Noah Weisberg
Charlie Bucket—Henry Boshart (alternating with Brendan Reilly Harris, Rueby Wood)
Mrs. Green—Clyde Voce
Grandpa Joe—James Young
Mrs. Bucket—Amanda Rose
Grandma Josephine—Jennifer Jill Malenke
Grandma Georgina—Claire Neumann
Grandpa George—Benjamin Howes
Mrs. Gloop—Beth Kirkpatrick
Augustus Gloop— Matt Wood
Mr. Salt--Nathaniel Hackmann
Veruca Salt—Jessica Cohen
Mr. Beauregarde—David Samuel
Violet Beauregarde--Brynn Williams
Mrs. Teavee—Madeleine Doherty
Mike Teavee—Daniel Quadrino
Ensemble---Olicia Cece, Alex Dreschke, Jess Fry, David R. Gordon, Chavon Hampton, Benjamin Howes, Karen Hyland, Lily Kaufmann, David Paul Kidder, Jennifer Jill Malenke, Joe Moeller, Tanisha Moore, Claire Neumann, Joel Newsome, Clyde Voce, Borris Anthony York
Dance Captain—Kristin Piro
Assistant Dance Captain—Kevin Nietzel
Reviewed Performance: 8/22/2019
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The audience is first treated to a soaring homage to Renee Magritte’s Son of Man. The man has his back to us (no apple visible) and the bowler hat is replaced with Willy Wonka’s snazzier top hat. The gigantic electronic image, which promises much more in the way of dazzling projection scenery, frames Wonka with a royal purple velvet curtain to his right.
The reference to surrealism is perfectly on theme. The first act starts in an urban setting, seemingly early-to-mid twentieth century. Here, the scene and costumes are visually harmonious with a brown-greyish overlay. As a gold ticket contest gets underway, two comically phony television broadcasters, Cherry (Karen Hyland) and Jerry (Joel Newsome) usher us around the world, and into the future. In the second act, we are immersed ever deeper into the Chocolate Factory, where normalcy gives way to fantastic surrealism.
Willy Wonka (Noah Weisberg) is a reclusive chocolate factory owner, who suffers from occupationally induced paranoia. He was a victim of corporate espionage—spies stole his art and he hates all humanity. After years of self-imposed seclusion in his factory, he forces himself out into the world in the hopes of finding his replacement. He opens and staffs a chocolate store in Charlie Bucket’s impoverished neighborhood, striking up a friendship with the fatherless boy. Charlie immediately impresses Wonka with his love and knowledge of all things Wonka chocolate (one bar was “more of a ganache” he explains). Wonka and Charlie also share very active imaginations, and the phrase “odd is a gift from God” applies to both characters. But the play is not so pat as to make these two the same: Charlie, we know, is inherently good. But Wonka?
As the electronic curtain opens, Noah Weisberg appears as the man himself, and his portrayal of Willy Wonka works on multiple levels. He is every bit the flawless, accomplished song and dance man audiences expect from a touring Broadway production. But he also must, and does, charm those of us who remember Gene Wilder. Weisberg is commanding and statuesque, while simultaneously firing off Wonka riddles at breakneck speed. Weisberg does a great job of navigating the characters’ contradictions (in charge yet spouting non sequiturs) and ambiguities (um, did he kill the kids?).
In the Dallas opening, Charlie Bucket was played by Henry Boshart (Brendan Reilly Harris and Rueby Wood are alternates). Boshart is a clearly gifted singer, and he thoroughly convinces as the sweet young boy beset by poverty and prone to flights of fancy. He masters the slapstick-type elements demanded of the character. It is truly a remarkable performance by someone so young.
As his mother, Amanda Rose delivers the type of dulcet, soaring solo expected of a Broadway production in “If Your Father Were Here.” Her voice is gorgeous. Charlie’s mother is perhaps the only simply good, uncomplicated character in this play. She is beset by poverty and responsible for the care of her parents and her dead husband’s parents, all of whom appear bedridden in the first act. There is even a reference to the scourge of automation. Her hours from the night shift are cut when she is replaced with a sewing machine. Mom works all the time, but her wages clearly fall short; she combs through garbage for their needs and cooks with rotten vegetables. Nonetheless, Mrs. Bucket is good-natured about it all.
Mrs. Green, played to full comic effect by Clyde Voce, walks around the neighborhood selling foodstuffs from her cart. In a nod to the “food dessert” concern in impoverished neighborhoods, she freely admits that her vegetables are rotten. Her hilarious sales pitches include: second hand vegetables; vintage, antique, pre-owned vegetables.
One story arc is Charlie’s transition from his Grandpa Joe (James Young), a raucous but bedridden storyteller, to Wonka as a role model. Young delivers a surprisingly upbeat Joe, given the character’s circumstances. He does a great job navigating the otherwise awkward character transition from bedridden to mobile, as necessary to escort Charlie.
The goodness of Charlie and his impoverished family is sharply juxtaposed by the four other children who win golden ticket tours. The first is Augustus Gloop (Matt Wood, in a fat suit) and his adoring mother Mrs. Gloop (Beth Kirkpatrick). Augustus enjoys a healthy meal, and his mother just finds more of him to love. Wood, Kirkpatrick, and the cast are hilarious Bavarian caricatures as they yodel away, extolling the virtues of sausage.
None of these kids seems to have a parent of their same gender, so when we meet the spoiled brat Veruca Salt (Jessica Cohen), she is accompanied by her father (Nathaniel Hackmann). Mr. Salt is a mobbed up Russian oligarch comically scared of his over-the-top bratty daughter’s shrieking demands. Cohen navigates the comedy while also sporting her talent as a classically trained ballerina. Hackman is a hulking comic presence.
Anyone remembering the movie anticipates the gum-smacking Violet. Violet Beauregarde (Brynn Williams) is the Queen of Pop. She and her father (David Samuel) creep the time frame into a more contemporary era, although they could easily be from the twentieth century. Williams is a complete delight with a gorgeous voice. Her sass and commanding presence light up the stage, and Samuel has good chemistry as her enabling, Instagram-me-Daddy accomplice in the pursuit of vapid celebrity.
The story takes a decidedly dark turn when we meet Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino) and his deliciously dysfunctional mother (a glorious Madeleine Doherty). Their vignette is presumably set in Iowa, but as Cherry points out, “They say it is Iowa, but how can you tell?” While Mrs. Teavee is stuck in the year 1958, the accoutrements of Mike’s video game addiction place him out of time with the rest of the cast. The lyrics in their vignette are a scathing indictment of many things, including the American mental health system, such as it is—or isn’t. Mike is home schooled by order of the court and restrained at night by his mother. She laces his oatmeal with Thorazine, and is high as cloud nine herself. Mrs. Teavee is an inveterate alcoholic who is nonetheless sympathetic, if only compared to her monstrous son. The “mommy juice” jokes continue into the second act, becoming a point of mutual affection between Wonka and Mrs. Teavee.
Wonka and the ensemble deliver gorgeously choreographed, big dance numbers in the first act. When reality is taken away from us during intermission, and we are delivered into true Roald Dahl territory in the Chocolate Factory for the second act, the choreography switches to original, and thoroughly hilarious, dance numbers. The Oompa Loompas are the combined effort of unique choreography and illusion. They are funny, adorable, and the crowd loved them.
One of the factory escapades is both gorgeously choreographed and chillingly dark, bleeding nightmare elements into the dream nirvana that the chocolate factory originally appears to be. The spoiled Veruca does not believe daddy won’t buy her a squirrel. When she inevitably, like the others, disobeys Wonka because she lacks fundamental impulse control, Veruca falls into an eerily beautiful dance number with five other squirrel-costumed cast members who, like Jessica Cohen, are classically trained dancers. When the squirrels dismember Veruca, daddy is the only one to miss her.
The character of Willy Wonka, and the play itself, represents classic Roald Dahl dark humor, ambiguity, and contradictions. Is Wonka cruel, or simply inattentive, in his interactions with Charlie in the first act? Are those kids really dead, or do the vague references to the magical restorative powers of the Oompa Loompas mean they survive the factory? Are both true: they are dead, and they deserved to be, but you can lie to any upset kids that you bring with you?
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a children’s story with content for adults. I was relieved when, in the second act, Bugs Bunny and cartoons of that era are snuck into a time travel channel-flipping montage, because I had been thinking of that very thing—when a family watched one channel, instead of everyone staring at their own screen. Cartoons used to work on at least two levels: the fantastic talking animals entertaining kids, and then the dirty jokes, or cultural send ups (thinking “Rabbit of Seville”), that only the adults understood.
Here, homage is paid to Beckett’s End Game with the surprising pop-up appearance of bedridden grandparents, whom we didn’t know were there. Jerry starts to make a John-Paul Sartre observation before the play goes full-on surreal, and an entire song (Strike That, Reverse It) is devoted to Freudian slips.
One of the reasons not to miss this performance is for the Scenic, Projection, and Illusion Designs. There is no “set” designer. Is this production part of a turning point from corporeal, three dimensional “sets” to the use of electronic projections upon two dimensions? This production is particularly fascinating on this point because there is a traditional set in Act I: the hovel where Charlie lives with this mother and four Grandparents swivels and moves on and off stage, as does the chocolate store where Wonka works incognito. The second act does use a traditional set at the beginning, as the cast starts grabbing edible flora, but the vibrant video projections become increasingly fantastic and instrumental. Two sets of frames enable this effect. It is quite a feat, and worth seeing.
The Winspear is always a treat, and this is especially true now. As part of its 10-year celebration, the spectacular “Moody Foundation Chandelier” rises, before the performance, to an original composition by Booker T. Washington student Damoyee Janai Neroes.
The orchestra is first rate. The elaborate costumes span the globe and different time periods. Many are also feats of engineering and illusion, as for example the height-challenged (Okay, super short) Oompa Loompas and the homicidal, yet classically trained ballerina squirrels.
There are so many reasons not to miss Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We cheered the Oompa Loompas and enjoyed dazzling visual effects and beautiful live music. The audience was filled with children and adults, and everyone had fun.
Presented by AT&T Performing Arts Center Broadway Series
August 22 through August 25, 2019: August 23 & 24 at 8:00 p.m.; August 24 at 2:00 p.m.; August 25 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora Street, Dallas, Texas 75201
For information and Tickets call 214 880 0202 or go to https://www.attpac.org/