Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is wonderful evening out offering a total fantasy escape.
This musical is based on the 2005 Tim Burton reinterpretation of the 1964 Roald Dahl novel starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka. The Burton movie was not a remake of the 1971 film ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ starring Gene Wilder instead sourcing the original book for its inspiration. Wilder was a milder Wonka than the depth of Depp’s psychopathically portrayed character.
And as this musical veers to the latter 2005 darker storyline, that in turn gives licence for some amazing effects. It is here where ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ excels. To success for the audience the larger than life fantasy has to translate to the confines the smaller stage.
Part 2 of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is where the real theatrics are unveiled. The brilliant, split-second action of the squirrel scene with Veruca Salt is all about timing while the miniaturisation of Mike Teevee is cleverly co-ordinated. However, the brilliantly choreographed Oompa Loompa leaves you laughing and bewitched at the same time.
The individual elimination of the characters Mike Teevee, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregard, and Augustus Gloop represent goodness over greed, vanity, gluttony and obsession. Charlie Bucket is the show’s underdog and eventual hero.
12-year old Lenny Thomas was Charlie Bucket for Melbourne’s opening night performance. In total, five child actors play rotate in the role. It is incredible that someone so young can convincingly carry a show. The Charlie Bucket character is as important as the Willy Wonka role. That is a lot of pressure for a child actor. At 12 Lenny Thomas already has an impressive resume. He was previously seen as young Peter Allen in The Production Company’s ‘The Boy From Oz’, Billy in ‘School of Rock’ and Benji in ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’.
Tony Sheldon, who plays Grandpa Joe, also has a ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ credit on his resume. As Charlie’s Grandpa he gets all the good lines. The Australian production has been colloquialised with local references to Ned Kelly and Burke & Wills giving the local audience a chance to associate culturally with this production.
Australian cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The accessibility of American Paul Slade Smith as Willy Wonka, who played Willy on Broadway, was great timing for the Frost Organisation. Paul is a veteran of Broadway having also starred in ‘Finding Neverland’, ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Having been Willy long before arriving in Australia he owns the show from his first appearance as the Candy Man through to the starring role as Willy Wonka.
Lucy Maunder is a true Australian star. Her Mrs Bucket is perfection. With her prior experience in ‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’, ‘Matilda: The Musical’, ‘Grease’, ‘Heathers’ and ‘Lady In Black’ her name attached to a bill is now a drawcard. You see the name Maunder and you know it is going to be good.
This show overlaps the old with the new musically. From the original soundtrack from the lyrics of David Bowie inspiration Anthony Newley shuffled through to the new music by Marc Sharman and Scott Wittman.
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is ‘Wicked’ good. If theatre is meant to be a three hour escape then ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ delivers. This is not a show for little kids. This is a 13+ show for sure but considering if you were 13 when you saw the Gene Wilder movie you would be a kid in your 60s now.
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ works perfectly visually but its underlying message of ‘Good Beats Bad’ is a great message for people to hear.
You will not walk away disappointed.