Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Book by David Greig based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Choreography by Joshua Bergasse
Directed by Jack O’Brien
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
You know how a chocolate candy can look tempting on the outside, but be a terrible disappointment when you bite into it? That morsel is Broadway's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Anticipation was high before the show opened at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. After all, who doesn't love the story about little Charlie Bucket who finds a golden ticket inside his Willy Wonka candy bar that opens the doors to the amazing, cavernous chocolate factory and a chance to meet the eccentric, reclusive candy maker himself? Well, me -- I never did care for the book, so perhaps I didn't view the show with an open mind -- but everyone else I knew couldn't wait to see one of their favorite stories by Roald Dahl come to life and the West End London production had received positive reviews.

With Broadway funny man Christian Borle (Something Rotten, Peter and the Star Catcher) in the role of Willy Wonka and a score and lyrics by the Hairspray team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, well, as I said, the expectations were high for the Great White Way.

Sitting through this show, however, is a bit like ripping open a Wonka bar only to discover it doesn't contain a golden ticket. In fact, this show doesn't even have any chocolate bars for sale in the lobby or at the bar. How do you miss a marketing opportunity like that? Think of all the little kids attending who would have demanded a bar, especially if it might contain a golden ticket entitling the winner to a T-Shirt with the show's logo or something. But, I digress....

Borle does what he can with the material and is amusing at times. The score is not memorable, except, of course, for the Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley tune "The Candy Man" from the film version which is incorporated into the first pretty boring opening numbers. David Greig's book tries to update the original, but leaves us kind of confused at times an trying to remember if a plot point was in the book or not. Also failing to excite are the sets, designed by Marc Thompson, who also does the costumes. Some are virtually blank and ask us to use our imagination (the show's tag line is "Imagine," after all), but what works in a book doesn't work on stage. When watching a Broadway show with a cast of 35 performing Joshua Bergasse's choreography, it fair to assume that we should be seeing some amazing, larger-than-life scenery.

Basil Twist contributes some enjoyable puppet designs (the Oompa Loompas are a big hit) but some other effects fail like some giant squirrels doing ballet. Some special effects (design by Jeremy Chernick) go too far (I don't want to throw out any spoilers here, but the end of one of the kids with a winning ticket to visit the factory, is rather gruesome and brought gasps of alarm from the audience).

The kids making a visit to Willy Wonka's unimaginative factory are:
  • Veruca Salt (Emma Pfaeffle), whose father, Mr. Salt (Ben Crawford), allows to be a spoiled brat
  • Gum-chewing Violet Beauregard (Trista Dollison) and her father,Alan H. Green as Mr. Beauregard
  • Video gamer Mike Teavee (Michael Wartella) and his mom (Jackie Hoffman who gets a few laughs)
  • Gluttonous Augustus Gloop (F. Michael Haynie) and his sausage-weilding mother (Kathy Fitzgerald)
  • And of course, Charlie Bucket (the role is shared by Jake Ryan Flynn, Ryan Foust and Ryan Sell, all making their Broadway debuts).
OK, as I was just typing up those descriptions I was thinking, "Gosh, I hate this story...."  There's an undercurrent of the adults not watching out for the kids that I don't like.There is a creepiness to Willy Wonka and an unpleasant, adult tone in a show that should be fun for kids.

Here's some more storyline that doesn't sit well:  Charlie's four elderly grandparents are too old to do much of anything but huddle together against the cold in a single bed in the shabby home kept by Charlie's mother (Emily Padgett) who works hard to keep a rotten meal on the table. She doesn't appear to be too upset by this and is quite perky and neat while singing bright tunes. It is as though Director Jack O'Brien threw up his hands and took a break with his Kit-Kat bar . Oh, wait, there aren't any candy bars in the theater, remember, so that couldn't be it.

Grandpa Joe (John Rubenstein), who accompanies Charlie on his tour of the factory, Grandpa George (Paul Slade Smith), Grandma Josephine (Kristy Cates) and Grandma Georgina (Madeline Doherty) have some of the funniest lines and are a highlight of the show. 

Apparently I am not alone in my lackluster review. The show failed to receive one nomination for any of the major theater awards this season (Outer Critics, Drama Desk and Tony Awards). A national tour has been announced, however.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory offers a sweet and sour snack at the Lunt Fontaine, 205 West 46th St., NYC. www.charlieonbroadway.com

-- I would recommend this for 13 and up.
-- God's name taken in vain

Additional casting:
Yesenia Ayala, Darius Barnes, Colin Bradbury, Jared Bradshaw, Ryan Breslin, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Stephanie Gibson, Talya Groves, Cory Lingner, Elliott Mattox, Monette McKay, Kyle Taylor Parker, Katie Webber, Stephen Carrasco, Robin Masella, Kristin Piro, Amy Quanbeck, Michael Williams, and Mikey Winslow.

Additional credits:
Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman, Sound Design by Andrew Keister, Projection Design by Jeff Sugg, Special effects design by Jeremy Chernick, orchestrations by Doug Besterman and music direction and supervision by Nicholas Skilbeck.

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY opens on Sunday, April 23, 2017 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (205 W. 46 St).

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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