Review | Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a whole lot of fun

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Musical | Crown Theatre | Until 28 November | ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

I must admit I felt some trepidation heading into the musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s a story I’ve loved since it was read to our class in Year 5, and I’ve seen the 1971 film version hundreds of time.

On the way to the theatre, my great-niece and I discussed the differences between the book, the original film version and the later Tim Burton remake starring Johnny Depp. Her brother, who is younger, was less familiar with the material.

It’s the story of Charlie Bucket, and extremely poor boy who lives with his months and four bed-bound grandparents, struggling to make ends meet. They live in the town where Willy Wonka has his mysterious chocolate factory, which makes the best chocolate bars.

When a competition to find one of five ‘golden tickets’, granting an unheard of to visit the factory is announced, Charlie dreams of finding one of the much-sought-after passes.

Slowly one by one children around the globe begin finding the tickets, There’s Augustus Gloop, Violent Beauregard, Mike Teevee, and Verruca Salt. Finally Charlie finds the last of the five tickets, taking his Grandpa Joe along with him to the gates of the factory.

Inside the five parents and children embark on a tour of the bizarre factory under the guidance of the mysterious and enigmatic Willy Wonka. One by one the children come to a sticky, sometimes fudgey, often gooey, end.

I’d read up on this musical adaptation that made it’s debut in London in 2013. While it played in the West End for three years, it got mixed reviews, and the show had a radical rework before it moved to Broadway in 2017, many of the songs were completely changed, and more of the familiar tunes from the 1971 film version were worked into the score.

The Australian opening in 2019 saw more tweaks, but the result is they’ve now got the recipe right, and the production is firing on all cylinders.

The story line is slightly different to the previous versions, allowing the character of Choclate Factory owner Willy Wonka to appear from the beginning, but it follows the basic structure of the original story. The first half of the show focuses on the search for the golden ticket, slowly introducing all the characters, after the interval it’s all the action inside the factory.

There are many fabulous moments in this show, the opening of The Candy Man is delightful, it’s just a song that takes us back to childhood, when it’s sung you can’t help but get a nostalgic rush one part Wonka, a dash of Sammy Davis Jnr and a splash of Tony Barber.

Charlie Bucket launches onto the stage with the energetic tune Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka – jazz hands to the max, before we head of on our adventure meeting all the characters. When Charlie finally finds his golden ticket there’s the uplifting I’ve Got a Golden Ticket, as Grandpa Joe rediscovers his ability to walk and dance after decades of lying in bed.

The second half of the show is when things really get firing on all thrusters. Stike It, Reverse It is a fabulously upbeat number that takes us into the Chocolate Factory, Pure Imagination is magical, and the Oompa Loompas make a theatrical entrance that’s as impressive as Frank n Furter’s “How’d you do”, Norma Desmond descending a staircase or the silhouette of Velma Kelly.

The clever staging and costuming that allows each character to come to a troublesome end is clever, Violent Beauregard does blow up into a giant blueberry, Mike Teevee is shrunk into a smaller size, and Augustus Gloop is swallowed up by a river of chocolate. After the squirrels disposed of Verruca Salt, my young companions wondered who would play the role the next evening. Her demise was very convincing.

Leading this magical tale is Willy Wonka played by Stephen Anderson. Gene something…Johnny Who? Anderson makes this role all his own and he’s comical, mysterious and just the right amount of odd. He has several moments of pure brilliance. Several young actors take turns playing the role of Charlie Bucket, a different performer taking to the stage each night.  Well-known actor Robert Grubb is perfect as Grandpa Joe.

The opening night performance of the Perth season was dedicated to composer and lyricist Leslie Bricusse. He wrote many of the most loved songs in the show, and passed away last month aged 90.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a lot of fun, see it with some children if you can!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – The Musical is at Crown Theatre until 28th November.

Graeme Watson

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