What’s more topical than a play about a psychopathic CEO who lures children to his factory where, one-by-one, they’re killed off—tempted with tasty but unsafe products that haven’t undergone any testing by federal regulators? The latest musical adaptation from the gloriously twisted mind of Roald Dahl leans into the horrific elements of his classic novel, and yet the musical version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will still delight kids more than their parents.
At its heart, the play, like the book, is a celebration of imagination, creativity and the sacred act of creation—turning something into nothing. It’s also a condemnation of those who refuse to dream. The violence is horrific and also wonderfully silly. The 1971 film version was one of the first “horror movies” I saw as a kid, and while it may not have fueled nightmares, the Oompa Loompas certainly replayed in my young brain on many of a night laying in bed.
Kids at the Fox Theatre last night may have likewise gone to sleep thinking about the strange diminutive factory workers, cleverly portrayed with actors’ heads and puppet bodies on the stage. After each Golden Ticket winner meets their grizzly fate, Willy Wonka assures the survivors that the Oompa Loompas will be able to fix them up fine, and that’s good enough us all.
The play includes several iconic songs from the original film, like “Candy Man,” “Pure Imagination” and “Oompa Loompa,” along with several mostly forgettable new numbers. Adults looking for their next Broadway musical soundtrack to play on repeat can skip this one, but theatre fans with children will enjoy watching their kids react to the humor and wonder happening on stage.
At the Fox, Noah Weisberg was certainly channeling more Gene Wilder than Johnny Depp into his eccentric chocolatier, and Brendan Reilly Harris captured the wide-eyed wonder of the kids in the audience as Charlie.
There’s a huge demand for kid-friendly musicals, and this production fills that demand while keeping parents nostalgic and happy.