Susan Granger’s review of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (Lunt-Fontanne Theater)
By the time this garishly grotesque new musical concludes, Charlie’s fabled Golden Ticket is so tarnished that its creator, Roald Dahl, would barely recognize it. “Pure Imagination” goes terribly awry!
Admittedly, it’s difficult to follow in the footsteps of Gene Wilder’s bewitching Willy Wonka, but Christian Borlie tries, embodying the charming, mischievous chocolatier, opening the show, singing one of its most popular numbers: “The Candy Man.”
The story revolves around virtuous, young Charlie Bucket (Jake Ryan Flynn) who lives with his impoverished family in the shadow of Willy Wonka’s mysterious Chocolate Factory. Lonely and looking for a successor, Willie launches a contest, offering to open his factory to five lucky children who find Golden Tickets tucked in their candy bars – along with their parents.
Introduced by smarmy TV personalities, there’s the gross Bavarian sausage glutton, Augustus Gloop (F. Michael Haynie); Russia’s entitled ballerina, Veruca Salt (Emma Pfaeffle); California’s gum-snapping Violet Beauregarde (Trista Dollison); and Idaho’s smartphone-obsessed Mike Teevee (Michael Wartella).
Bizarrely, these obnoxious caricatures of ‘children’ are played by adults. And the cacao-craving Oompa-Loompas are “humanettes,” kneeling performers whose heads bobble above their puppet bodies.
At one point, Mrs. Teavee (Jackie Hoffman) aptly quips, “The little people are singing again. That’s never a good sign.”
Since this fanciful musical ran for almost four years on London’s West End, it’s surprising that the producers replaced not only director Sam Mendes with Jack O’Brien but also most of its creative team, as Scottish playwright David Greig relies on the bond created between fatherless Charlie and childless Wonka for emotional resonance.
While O’Brien and songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman previously collaborated on “Hairspray,” the most memorable music is from the film score by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Mark Thompson’s serviceable sets and costumes disappoint, as does Joshua Bergasse’s clunky choreography.
FYI: Roald Dahl’s subversively popular 1964 book was first filmed as “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (1971) with Gene Wilder; then Johnny Depp played a creepy Wonka in Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005).
Since family fare is always in demand on Broadway, it’s too bad that something magical must have been lost crossing the Pond.