“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is one of the very few books I have read multiple times. Roald Dahl’s amazing story of a young poor boy who gets the opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of a tour of a candy factory run by an eccentric inventor not only captured my literary imagination, but Gene Wilder starring as Willy Wonka in the 1971 film adaptation is one of those that I have seen more times than I can count. (I have only seen the Tim Burton film once, and I am good there.) It has now become a full-blown Broadway musical, and I got to check it out when it came to Dallas at the Winspear Opera House as the 2019 season comes to a close.
I truly have mixed feelings on the execution here. There are some that may cite interesting decisions made with the storytelling (this actually sticks a bit closer to the book than the films), but the heart and soul of its message is here: that belief in yourself and the power of imagination can make anything possible. On the flip side, seeing where the intermission was made me wonder a bit about the pacing of the story, and it does so at a pretty quick pace. I know that sounds odd from a production that has a net run time of two hours and ten minutes (add to that a twenty-minute intermission), but it does move itself along.
The cast here all fit very well. There are some updates to some of the characters (Mike Teevee is a hacker, Violet Beauregard is a pop singer, and Veruca Salt is a Russian ballerina), but all of the pieces fit together nicely, with Noah Weisberg and the rotation of Henry Boshart, Brendan Reilly Harris, and Rueby Wood as Wonka and Charlie Bucket, respectively. Weisberg plays the is-he-crazy-or-is-he-not chocolatier with that perfect edge and really embodies the character I see in my mind based on the candies that I see in stores and at movie theaters, and his chemistry with the younger actors is great.
However, this production lives or dies on the presence of the Oompa Loompas, and this is done BRILLIANTLY. With dark human costumes, puppets, and sometimes an additional cast member to help so that all four limbs can animate at one time, their arrival had the crowd cheering at the top of their lungs and each time they came back out after that pushed this production over the top from an enjoyment standpoint.
Outside of a couple of comedically violent moments (prepare the kids for that), this is a great night out for the family at the theater. With amazing technology and a really well-written set of songs performed wonderfully by this great cast, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is one of those musicals that no matter how old or young you are, the world can melt away for a couple of hours in order to enjoy a world that is simply… pure imagination.