Ask anyone about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and you’ll get eye rolls and a crooked grin. “Ya mean that weird movie with all the grandparents sleeping together in a bed? And a girl blows up? And there are Oompa Loompas? Yeah, that’s the one.
Melted into our collective memory like candy left in a hot car, is the dark story of Charlie Bucket, a little boy with no money, who dreams of winning a coveted golden ticket to visit the mysterious Willy Wonka’s factory.
Depending on our age, we prefer Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp as the mysterious chocolatier Willy Wonka, but put down that TV remote. The new musical on view at the Civic Theatre is more inventive and funnier than either movie.
The production opens with “The Candy Man,” and a terrific cast delivers new tunes and hilarious banter without a hiccup.
Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka laughs at every tongue-twisting line, and though he often sounds like Wilder, he’s faster and quirkier. The touring cast is superb in 20 musical numbers, and we want to adopt little Charlie, played in rotation by Henry Boshart, Collin Jeffery, and Rueby Wood.
Joshua Bergasse’s choreography is clean and jazzy, with a Fosse vibe. Without spilling the fudge topping, dance sequences for the Oompa Loompas are simply genius, and puppet master Basil Twist did the puppet and illusion design, so there are artistic elements galore.
Scenic and costume designs by Mark Thompson range from dingy crocheted afghans for the Bucket family, to neon and Oktoberfest mixed with Steampunk.
The Bucket house with its grandparent bed on top rotates, and the whole loony candy factory with complicated machines and blinding projections (Jeff Sugg) moves at warp speed, thanks to director Jack O’Brian, who happens to have a San Diego connection. O’Brian led San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre from 1981-2007, won three Tony Awards, and helped craft this new show, without losing the dark humor of the original fable.
The movies and this new musical are all based on the 1964 novel by Roald Dahl.
Dahl is famous for many grotesque masterpieces, such as “James and the Giant Peach,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The BFG,” and “Matilda.” We can blame his mother for his dark thoughts.
Born in Wales to Norwegian immigrants, Dahl often traveled back to Norway with his mother where she told stories of trolls and witches from Scandinavian fables.
No doubt, Dahl would scream with delight to watch these bad kids get their punishment.
Matt Wood’s plump interpretation of Augustus Gloop in Bavaria and being sucked into the chocolate river are gut-busting fun. Jessica Cohen as Veruca Salt, the spoiled Russian ballet dancer, steals the show when she dances on pointe with giant squirrels. And Violet and Mike are totally modern now.
Brynn Williams as the gum-chewing mega star brings extra sass and her dance crew, and her dad brings the best line, “She exploded…” Daniel Quadrio as the game and TV obsessed Mike Teavee is nimble and nasty, and every kid that attends will want him as a tiny action figure. How they shrunk him is a marvel.
James Young plays a demented and loving Grandpa Joe with aplomb, and affirms the importance of grandparents. Still, it’s a fable. We can’t ignore Dahl’s sharp commentary on poor families, sickly senior citizens, bratty rich kids, helicopter parents, overworked mothers, and cruel factory owners.
The new version adds hilarious jabs at sneaky Russians, which are timely, and a fatherly bond between Charlie and Wonka, which may not feel right, because we can’t trust strange men in wild plaid pants who offer our kids candy. And some of us can’t get used to Oompa Loompas with different hair. It’s now spikey orange instead of neon green swirl.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory runs through May 19, 2019, at the Civic Theatre, 1100 Third Ave. Downtown. www.broadwaysd.co