Whimsy and weird, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” delivered a whole bunch of nostalgia and new memories when it opened Thursday night at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas’ Arts District.
That blend of something old and something new is truly what makes this musical a must-see – especially for die-hard fans of the original Gene Wilder production.
See, I am such a fan of the 1971 movie that I have never dared to watch the Johnny Depp remake. In my opinion, it felt somewhat disrespectful to a film I consider pure perfection.
Remakes have always been a letdown. There’s still so much to compare, and alterations to characters you’ve grown to love are almost too hard to handle.
But, a place where I am finding myself lightening up to my allegiance to the film I grew up watching is with musicals. Whether it’s the revival of a play that inspired a favorite childhood movie or one that is inspired by, I am having such a blast walking down memory lane.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” musical, which is playing through Monday, isn’t the movie I grew up watching. Yes, it holds on to the storyline of a poor young boy and his dream of finding a golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Yes, it includes messages about hope and determination and morality.
But, it also offers new aspects to differentiate itself from the film.
This both worked and failed.
For example, the pure narcism of the character Veruca Salt was utterly lost in this production. I am not sure if that was intentional, but the now Russian ballerina didn’t deliver.
While Veruca had a few lines that pointed her to being a “bad nut,” her performance paled to the outburst of Julie Dawn Cole.
Also, in what I see as an attempt to modernize the characters, the bubble-gum social media influencer, Violet Beauregarde, was a letdown. Though, I will say she has one of the coolest scenes in the musical when she actual blows up into a blueberry – how did they do that?
Noah Weisberg is excellent in his role of Willy Wonka.
I kind of love how he blends a little bit of Wonka’s shy demeanor with his cooky and stirs in some flamboyance. It works.
But, the star of this production – as it should be – was Charlie Bucket (played on opening night by Henry Boshart).
Charlie immediately captures the heart of the audience and for such a young man holds on to the crown scene after scene. This kid is going places in life!!
Beyond the characters, two technical aspects of the production I have to rave about is the set and the solution for making the tiny Oompa Loompas.
Instead of a traditional set, the production uses varying lighted walls full of graphics to bring scenes to life and trick the audience’s eye during interactive elements.
The Oompa Loompas, though, wowed the audience the most when actors dressed in all black took the stage with the tiny puppets melded into their bodies. It reminded me of some of the animal characters in Broadway’s “The Lion King.”
For what it is, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” musical is a lot of fun. Take your spouse, take your best friend, take your children, it will be one fun night!!