Review: 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' is a Winner!

(Joan Marcus)

(Joan Marcus)

  • Jill Weinlein, Chief Los Angeles Critic

There are so many winning elements to the hit Broadway touring musical, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, now at the Pantages Theatre. First the show’s music by Grammy, Emmy and Tony Award winner Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Grammy and Tony Award winners Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman. Besides familiar toe-tapping songs "Pure Imagination," "The Candy Man," songs, new-to-Broadway includes “A Letter from Charlie Bucket.”

Three-time Tony Award-winning director Jack O’Brien keeps this fast-paced musical lively with thoroughly entertaining the minute Broadway star Noah Weisberg (South Pacific, Enron, Elf, Legally Blonde) steps onstage. He is the extraordinary chocolate maker, Willy Wonka. Weisberg is not imitating Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp, he is a new version of an eccentric man infusing humor that had me laugh out loud. At times I had to cover my mouth to be respectful to those around.

We first meet Wonka standing in front of his not to scale chocolate factory with chimneys emitting clouds of smoke created by a talented team including five-time Tony Award nominee scenic designer Mark Thompson, projection designer Jeff Sugg, and special effects design by Jeremy Chernick. This show presents some of the best sets, lighting, special effect and projection images that I have seen in quite some time.

The story is similar to the motion pictures, eccentric Wonka’s chocolate is starting to taste dark and bitter, so he decides he to step down and find a new “candy man.” His one of a kind, magnificent and mysterious candy factory opens its gates to five unique lucky winners.

The writers keep Roald Dahl’s young Charlie Bucket similar to the film’s character (certain performances Henry Boshart, Collin Jeffrey, and Rueby Wood) living hand-to-mouth with his lovely mother (Amanda Rose) and his four grandparents (James Young, Jennifer Jill Malenke, Claire Neumann, and Benjamin Howes). Their creative recycled reused and repurposed heap of a house is made from items Mrs. Bucket hand-picks from the dump.

The bond between Grandpa Joe (James Young) and Charlie is strong in the musical number “Charlie, You & I.” This poor family definitely needs a little sweetening in their life. When Grandpa Joe and Charlie join the other four golden ticket winners, they all embark on a mesmerizing, life-changing journey through Wonka’s world of pure creative imagination.

The writers modernized the other four lucky winners, especially Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino) as a computer hacking, iPhone addicted gamer. He won his golden ticket by hacking into the contest. This actor with an attitude is fun to watch as he slithers, spins and tumbles onstage. The audience roars when Wonka takes his iPhone and stomps on it to break it apart. Parents in the audience wish they could do the same thing to unglue their own teenagers from the alluring screen. Mike’s hilarious alcoholic mother Mrs. Teavee (Madeleine Doherty) had us laughing in our seats, especially towards the end when he son’s wish comes true.

Another show stopper is golden ticket winner Bavarian Augustus Gloop (Matt Wood) wearing lederhosen and a string of sausages around his neck. He and his mother Mrs. Gloop (Kathy Fitzgerald) dance and sing along with the talented ensemble in the hilarious “More of Him to Love” musical number.

Remember bubble gum chewing Violet Beauregarde? Well, onstage she is a hip hop bubble gum chewing “Queen of Pop.” Violet (Brynn Williams) reminds me of a teenage Disney diva, especially with her three backup dancers in their pop and lock, gyrating musical scene. Wait until you see her blow up into an enormous blueberry.

What makes this musical even more spectacular is the choreography by Tony Award nominee and Emmy Award winner Joshua Bergasse. The last golden ticket showstopper is actress and dancer Jessica Cohen as Veruca Salt. She mesmerizes the audience as a Russian Prima Ballerina throughout and especially during “When Veruca Says” as she gracefully twirls, leaps, and jumps across the stage. An eyebrow-raising scene is her demise by enormous sinister “nutty” squirrels.

It’s never a good sign for one of the golden ticket winners when Wonka's army of beloved and curious Oompa-Loompas come out singing and dancing onstage. Yet for the audience, you will sit on the edge of your seat in awe as puppet and illusion designer (Obie and Drama Desk Award winner) Basil Twist’s ensemble of “little people” steal the show.

The costume by five-time Tony Award nominee Mark Thompson start out in muted colors before intermission, yet gradually bursts in a kaleidoscope of colors by the end.

Two of my favorite scenic moments infuse video and visual projections inside the Wonka Chocolate Factory, and during the glass elevator scene where Charlie and Wonka soar among stars.

The 36-member company also includes Sarah Bowden, Elijah Dillehay, Alex Dreschke, Jess Fry, David R. Gordon, Chavon Hampton, Sabrina Harper, Benjamin Howes, Karen Hyland, Lily Kaufmann, David Paul Kidder, Jennifer Jill Malenke, Joe Moeller, Tanisha Moore, Claire Neumann, Caylie Rose Newcom, Joel Newsome, Kevin Nietzel, Kristin Piro, Clyde Voce, Armando Yearwood Jr., and Borris Anthony York.

This Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a heartfelt musical mixed with love, making the audience feel good.

Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is produced by Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures (Mark Kaufman), Langley Park Productions (Kevin McCormick) and Neal Street Productions (Sam Mendes, Caro Newling).

The performance schedule for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is

Tuesday - Friday at 8pm

Saturday at 2pm & 8pm

Sunday at 1pm & 6:30pm

Additional performance March 28th at 2pm. No performance March 26th at 8:00pm.

Wednesday, March 27 at 8pm.

The show is recommended for ages 6 and up. Children under 5 will not be admitted to the theatre. All patrons must have a ticket, regardless of age.

Individual tickets for Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory start at $35. Prices are subject to change without notice.

A complete list of cities and dates for the national tour of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory can be found at www.CharlieOnBroadway.com.

Hollywood Pantages Theatre 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028

HollywoodPantages.com or Ticketmaster.com 1-800-982-2787

Hollywood Pantages Box Office (opens daily at 10am) and all Ticketmaster Outlets