Photo – Brian Geach
The beloved 1971 musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic story has finally arrived in Melbourne to the candy covered delight of theatre goers. Starring Paul Slade Smith as the enigmatic and eccentric Willy Wonka, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the story of the reclusive Wonka searching for an heir to his chocolate empire.
Opening the doors to the mysterious chocolate factory, five children and their parents are invited into Wonka’s world after winning a golden ticket granting them access to the fantastical candy land.
Five boys alternate the role of Charlie Bucket, the kind-hearted lad from a devastatingly poor family who receives the last ticket into the factory. Played by Lenny Thomas on opening night, Thomas was the right fit of sweet without being saccharine, and outpaced some of the more seasoned performers with his energy and wit.
Joined by four other “contestants” to the Wonka Empire, the production sticks to some of the stereotypes of previous film adaptations; Jake Fehily and Octavia Barron Martin play the yodelling, sausage yielding Augustus and Mrs Gloop which audiences will be most familiar with, while some of the other characters receive an update. Violet and Mr Beauregard (Jayme-Lee Hanekom and Madison McKoy) as the gum popping viral star and media mogul father living out his dreams of stardom through his daughter are an interesting remix of the original. As is Mike Teevee (Harrison Riley), an internet hacker and tech wizard man-child trapped under his alcoholic mother’s (Jayde Westaby) smothering care. Karina Russell is delightfully atrocious and precocious as peanut heiress Veruca Salt and her ballet solos are a highlight of the production, as is the booming vocal quality and comedic timing of Stephen Anderson as Veruca’s long suffering father. The Oompa loompas were a welcome reprieve from the struggling pace and their dance breaks were a hilarious (and technically impressive) addition.
The high budget production unfortunately couldn’t buy what it needed most. Magic. It lacked the charm and warmth needed to reach audiences of all ages. Act one plods along as we meet the contestants and Tony Sheldon as Grandpa Joe drops in a few colloquial jokes. In act two we finally enter the factory where one by one the spoilt brats are picked off leaving only Charlie to take his place as rightful heir to the Wonka throne.
Logistically the casting of adults as children makes sense, but it’s difficult to suspend belief when the age difference between Charlie (12) and Mike (20) is so evident. Slade as Wonka didn’t quite nail the creepy oddball quality and the entire production lacked energy, instead relying on production values to attract and distract the audience.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a bright and shiny production that misses the childish glee of the original, it makes you nostalgic for the Gene Wilder film which captured the wonder of a fantastical world of Pure Imagination.
John Frost, Craig Donnell, Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Langley Park Productions and Neal Street Productions presents
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
book by David Greig | score by Marc Shaiman | lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman | based on the book by Roald Dahl
Director Jack O’Brien
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre | 219 Exhibition Street, Melbourne VIC
Dates: 9 August – 3 November 2019
Tickets: From $59.90