'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' an intermittently entertaining hodgepodge

  • Charlie (Henry Boshart) sings the praises of Wonka candy bars in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which makes its touring debut at Chicago's Oriental Theatre.

    Charlie (Henry Boshart) sings the praises of Wonka candy bars in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which makes its touring debut at Chicago's Oriental Theatre. Courtesy of Joan Marcus

  • Candy manufacturer Willy Wonka (Noah Weisberg), right, takes Charlie (Henry Boshart) on a ride in a glass elevator in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," now on stage at Chicago's Oriental Theatre.

    Candy manufacturer Willy Wonka (Noah Weisberg), right, takes Charlie (Henry Boshart) on a ride in a glass elevator in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," now on stage at Chicago's Oriental Theatre. Courtesy of Joan Marcus

 
 
Updated 10/9/2018 10:22 AM

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" - ★ ★

In its touring debut at Chicago's Oriental Theatre, "Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is missing a key ingredient: heart. It's a vital reason why this much-revamped 2013 London stage musical version of the classic 1964 children's book comes off as a corporately manufactured hodgepodge.

 

But there are signs that members of the award-winning creative team tried really hard to make the musical work. And the cast, led by a drolly amusing Noah Weisberg as the eccentric candy confectioner Willy Wonka, do find moments of mirth amid the so-so adaptation.

Early on, playwright David Greig tries to craft scenes of true poignancy and wonderment around Charlie Bucket. He's the poverty-stricken lad who dreams of winning a "Golden Ticket" to visit his hometown's Wonka candy factory (child actors Collin Jeffery, Rueby Wood and the opening-night Charlie, Henry Boshart, each share the title role).

Yet all that bland familial affection shared between Charlie, his widowed mum (Amanda Rose) and two sets of bed-bound grandparents is a tonal yawn next to Dahl's more macabre source material. After all, audiences are supposed to roar with laughter at the weird ways a series of spoiled contest-winning children get bumped off in Act II during the factory tour.

Eccentric candy manufacturer Willy Wonka (Noah Weisberg), left, wraps the Golden Ticket winners and their guardians with a dubious liability contract in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at Chicago's Oriental Theatre.
Eccentric candy manufacturer Willy Wonka (Noah Weisberg), left, wraps the Golden Ticket winners and their guardians with a dubious liability contract in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at Chicago's Oriental Theatre. - Courtesy of Joan Marcus
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Tony Award-winning songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman ("Hairspray") also faced the difficult task of creating a new "Charlie" score. No matter how tuneful their efforts, Shaiman and Wittman's new material gets outshined by old Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse songs like "Pure Imagination" and "The Candy Man" from the 1971 Warner Bros. film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" ("I've Got a Golden Ticket" and "The Oompa Loompa Song" were also retained).

In taking over "Charlie" for its 2017 Broadway transfer (original director Sam Mendes and choreographer Peter Darling opted not to cross the pond), director Jack O'Brien and choreographer Joshua Bergasse do make some smart changes. Adults now play Charlie's kid competitors, which allows for much more elaborate choreography -- particularly Jessica Cohen's impressive ballet dancing as the rich Russian brat Veruca Salt, Brynn Williams' energetic hip-hop gyrations as the gum-smacking Violet Beauregarde and Daniel Quadrino's painful-looking pratfalls as the media-obsessed Mike TeaVee.

Members of the media mob the mysterious candy manufacturer Willy Wonka (Noah Weisberg), center, in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which makes its touring debut at Chicago's Oriental Theatre.
Members of the media mob the mysterious candy manufacturer Willy Wonka (Noah Weisberg), center, in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which makes its touring debut at Chicago's Oriental Theatre. - Courtesy of Joan Marcus

There are also plenty of fun visual gags courtesy of puppet and "illusion designer" Basil Twist (all those dancing miniature Oompa Loompas!) and production designer Mark Thompson. He creates plenty of quirky costume designs like balletic black squirrels, a 1950s housewife get-up for Madeleine Doherty as Mrs. TeaVee and the raggedy soldier's uniform for James Young as Grandpa Joe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Less successful are Thompson's high-tech, but largely soulless scenic designs that are too reliant on oversize LED video screens. Too often the defaults for "magical" effects fall to projection designer Jeff Sugg's colorful computer animations.

If you're in the market for a more heart-filled stage adaptation of a Roald Dahl book, look to the London and Broadway hit "Matilda The Musical" (Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace stages its regional premiere in April). "Matilda" creators Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly had more artistic freedom in their adaptation, which is apparent when contrasted to the old-versus-new parts that muddle up this "Charlie" musical.

• • •

Location: Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 745-3000 or broadwayinchicago.com

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also Sunday, Oct. 7), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (also Oct. 10 and 17); through Oct. 21

Tickets: $22-$127

Running time: About 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission

Parking: Area pay garages and limited metered street parking

Rating: For general audiences

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