By Erika Brown Thomas
Broadway In Chicago presents the fantastical tale of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—a rags to riches story, replete with larger (and littler) than life antagonists. Based on the children’s novel by Roald Dahl, this staged production stretches digital theatre to the max of audience imagination. For a brief synopsis of the novel, click here.
The wondrous projection designs of Jeff Sugg are the highlight of this show. Act two best illustrates the signature quote from Mr. Willy Wonka himself, as a “world of pure imagination.” A master of digital technology, Sugg gives Wonka’s magical inventions a place in the realized realm—not just the imaginary.
Noah Weisberg takes on the role of the charitable chocolatier, Willy Wonka. His vocals are stellar and his characterization of the ingenious Wonka is enjoyable and quite a bit more understated than the long line of Willy Wonkas before him.
Charlie Bucket (Henry Boshart, Collin Jeffery and Rueby Wood) is the only child in a lowly and destitute family made up of his mother (Amanda Rose) and four bedridden grandparents. While the actors are superb, the show itself struggles to do justice to these distinctive characters so carefully crafted by Dahl in his original book.
A crew of deplorable children and their parents accompany Charlie trek through Wonka’s fabulous and formidable factory with unexpected gags and prop hijinx.
Augustus Gloop (Matt Wood) and his mother (Kathy Fitzgerald) bring laughter to the stage simply by entering and existing. The over-the-top costumes by Mark Thompson help to make the pair a crowd favorite, and they elicit chuckle after chuckle even when their lines are lost through “accent translation!”
Jessica Cohen’s dance skills are on/en pointe as the spoiled trust-funded tween terror Veruca Salt while fellow deplorable, Violet Beauregarde (Brynn Williams) earnestly showcases the stylings of her pop star vocals.
Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino) is perhaps the most eerie character of all as he exemplifies all that we as a smart phoned society worry about. Quadrino’s physical prowess is apparent as he easily leaps and vaults around the set.
A large and talented ensemble provides a kaleidoscope of characters, including the much anticipated Oompa Loompas.
As with any play, movie or musical based on a favorite book, it is easy to nitpick and criticize the newest version of the well-loved story and the even more beloved characters … however it can be just as easy to sit back and find joy in humanity’s greatest skill – pure imagination.
Broadway in Chicago presents “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” through October 21 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W Randolph St, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.