As a musical fanatic and a huge Gene Wilder fan, I was absolutely ecstatic to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Broadway. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was a large part of my childhood and still is one of my favorite movies of all time. I couldn’t wait to see what kind of large, glamorous sets were going to be rolled out on stage displaying the crazy Wonka-Word. I was expecting something that would blow my mind with that same childhood wonder and a little bit of fright I’d experienced when I saw the movie for the first time. What I saw put the Gene Wilder classic to shame.
Let’s start with the set, or lack thereof; when I think of Wonka Factory and the candy world seen in “Pure Imagination,” I imagine an intimidating yet magnificent building, and a giant, psychedelic display of gumdrop trees and, of course, the iconic chocolate waterfall. The set choice for this production: a minimalist set to encourage the audience to picture the world with “pure imagination.” Although the idea seems clever on paper, it made me confused: where was the fun? The creativity? The hint of spookiness? I felt my heart break seeing something that looked so lazy and slapped together. There was even an entire scene where all the odd characters go through an “invisible obstacle course,” in which the actors mimed around the stage exclaiming, “Watch out!” It felt extremely underwhelming. There were no set pieces for Veruca Salt’s episode when she tries to steal a nut cracking squirrel, except a lame shadow on a backdrop of a conveyor belt with nuts. The biggest let down of all was when they rolled in the candy world on the stage and it was miniature, I don’t think all the characters could fit on it at once. It was so unspecial and pathetic, there was a sinking feeling in my chest. In my opinion, one of the most important parts of a musical, especially Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is a creative set, and I was completely let down as an audience member to see nearly nothing.
“The characters are okay, I guess,” is never a good thing to hear from the audience, and that’s exactly what I felt and heard from several other theater enthusiasts during intermission. I really liked the idea of making the characters more contemporary, I thought it could have been really creative. However, these characters were totally one dimensional and over the top, and not in a good way. Augustus and Mrs. Gloop looked the parts but were barely audible, they sang incoherently until they finally disappeared into the shallow chocolate pool. Violet Beauregarde’s “Queen of Pop” with a dad-manager was actually very funny to me, yet the two were nothing but loud and annoying. Veruca Salt and Mr. Salt were a Russian ballerina and her stoic father, honestly they weren’t very interesting except for the outbursts of “Mine! Mine! Mine!” Mike Teavee was probably the most dynamic out of the other children; he played the part well and acted like a spoiled millennial brat, and his mother’s character of a mom drinking to escape her awful kid was the only thing that made me laugh out loud. Then we are left with Charlie, Grandpa Joe, and Mr. Wonka himself. Charlie and Grandpa Joe were simple, the boy was sweet and the grandfather was senile, once again, nothing extraordinary. Willy Wonka was alright, he was a great singer but his attitude was surprisingly sarcastic. I didn’t feel like I was in the presence of Willy Wonka, I felt like I was in the presence of an actor who treated the entire musical like it was a joke which, by the way, it was.
Last, but not least, the tone of the production was unclear. Sometimes, we don’t realize how much the tone affects a musical until it’s just not right. With an eccentric plot like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there’s so much room for artistic choice in how the scenes evolve: they can be light hearted, dark humored, or sinister. In this version, all of the tones listed were used, and still the tone of the musical made no sense. There were cheerful jokes, yet the bad children were dying evilly in the factory. This threw off the momentum of the performance and caused it to be stagnant. There was no consistency and it came out so awkward and confusing.
The performances were unmemorable, I would never have guessed a Tony Award winner had directed the musical. Overall, it was a huge waste of time and money to see and I feel like part of my childhood has been disgraced. If you were thinking of seeing something magical and cool go see Spongebob: The Musical and save your money.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Worst Musical on Broadway Featured Image Credit: musicfeeds.com, broadwaymusicaltrades.weebly.com, japhyweideman.com, and seatplan.com