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Review: Touring production of ‘Charlie’ is just the ticket

Review: Touring production of ‘Charlie’ is just the ticket

A knockout production that's also technically stunning
Review: Touring production of ‘Charlie’ is just the ticket
The cast in Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."
Photographer: joan marcus

This delightful 2017 musical at Proctors is but the latest iteration of the Roald Dahl story that first appeared in 1964. Two movies followed, and a Netflix series is in the works. 

Why? Because the story is quirky and funny; right triumphs over self-interest; imagination is key to a happy life; and the good are rewarded, qualities of storytelling appealing to both children and adults. There were many kids in the audience at Tuesday’s opening, but no doubt a lot of grown-ups were there  because they had read the book or seen the Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp films.

They were rewarded with a knockout production that moves along at a good pace in Act I, with a score of upbeat or tender songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka!,” “If Your Father Were Here,” beautifully sung by Amanda Rose as Charlie’s mother) that quickly provide back story and create character. 

Then there are the hysterical set pieces introducing Charlie’s (Collin Jeffery) four competitors for the grand prize after a tour of Willy Wonka’s (Benjamin Howes) chocolate factory, the dream of every kid. What’s not to hate about the gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Matt Wood); the talented but self-absorbed chorine Veruca Salt (Jessica Cohen); the stuck-up, bubblegum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Brynn Williams); and the dim-witted, cocky Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino)? And they’re accompanied by four equally unappealing parents. 

Act II is technically stunning. Nominations and awards for the London and Broadway productions have focused on costumes, set, lighting, sound, and puppetry, with good reason. Wait till you see, for example, the Oompa Loompas (for the uninitiated, they’re the unusual-looking and mischievous  workers in Willy’s factory---think precursors to the Minions in the “Despicable Me” franchise), and when they appeared, the audience applauded. Congrats to Basil Twist for his concept and the ensemble for their spot-on execution.

And, of course, digital projections make magic of the entire stage.

Choreographer Joshua Bergasse, musical director/conductor Charlie Alterman, and Tony-winning director Jack O’Brien are the troika in charge of the production’s polish. It shines.

Charlie is accompanied to the factory by Grandpa Joe (James Young), and Young is a charmer. As much of a dreamer as Charlie, Joe is living later life from the lone household bed with the other three grandparents (such a whimsical touch), but when called into real action, he’s by Charlie’s side.
At Tuesday’s performance, Jeffery scored from the get-go as this wide-eyed, earnest, and family-oriented boy. His singing was spot-on---pitch, diction, and color---and the arc of his emotional ups-and-downs was evident.

In Act II, Charlie asks Joe, “Is Mr. Wonka joking or serious?” Joe says, “I think he’s both.” A strange guy,  a bit of a charlatan, like the Wizard of Oz. Like him? Fear him?

Both. Willy’s silhouette on the curtain even reminded me of Magritte’s odd Surrealist painting “The Pilgrim.” Ultimately, though, he’s a suitable father figure for fatherless Charlie (wait for the tear near the end). And Howes is superb, a consummate singer, effortlessly negotiating the score; a fine dancer; and an actor with more winks up his sleeve---which is where clever Willy keeps them.

How about the famous song “The Candy Man”? The Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley number has been snatched from the 1971 movie and deliciously opens the show. 

Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’

WHERE: Proctors Theater, 432 State St.
WHEN:  through Sunday, March 3
HOW MUCH:  $95-$25
MORE INFO:  518.346.6204, or proctors.org

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