Charlie & The Chocolate Factory was one of my favourite storybooks as a kid. I think I read the novel a dozen times as a young ’un, and probably half a dozen times as a young adult. As for the cinematic versions of the classic tale, I loved Gene Wilder’s turn in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and thought Johnny Depp did a dandy job at playing a camp Willy Wonka in 2005’s remake, albeit one that reverted to the original title of the book.
So… hearing about a musical being staged in Perth gave me a great sugar-rush, but also a sense of hesitation. Could an all singing-and-dancing stage rendition of one of my all-time favourite stories do justice to the original? The answer is a resounding YES.
The production company, Crossroads Live, has done a masterful job in executing out-of-this-world scenes on such limited stage space. And the production crew – consisting of some 90 members – have done a magnificent job in lighting, sound, video, aerial tactics, and even sleight-of-hand, to present all the magic of a rapid-paced story with all its convoluted backstories.
In fact, its each character’s backstory that is presented most brilliantly – where they’re from, what they’re about, and how they managed to maintain a Golden Ticket, all cleverly incorporated into new songs and tunes adapted from the movies.
When Augustus Gloop and his doting mother are introduced, as an example, political correctness is thrown out the proverbial window, making way for plus-size jokes and slapstick stereotyping. And I’m glad the producers didn’t tippy-toe around the subject matter. Augustus was gluttonous and his penance is, as Wonka says, a lesson to be learnt by the other children.
But while Augustus’ presentation is a little old-school, the characters of Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee are all introduced in more of a modern context – Veruka as the Entitled Rich Bitch, Violet as a Me-Me-Me Insta-Addicted starlet, and Mike as a chronic gamer glued to his TV set. The incorporation of social media references are cunning, clever and necessary to keep this classic story relevant to the a contemporary generation.
While musicals can often be touch-and-go – some falling into the pantomime bin for me – this one holds its own, with much wit and irony thrown into the musical mix. Some jokes in the script will likely go over the heads of some of the kids who’ll go along to see this, and the production itself is as much adult-oriented as it is family friendly.
The set design is first-class, as the story moves from the cramped confines of Charlie Bucket’s homes, to Wonka’s big, bright factory (at first a grey façade in the background of the Buckets’ family home), the chopping and changing of scenes seemed like a lot of work but it’s all carried out without a hitch!
Kudos must go to every one of the cast and crew of this production. From the dwarf-size Oompa Loompas to the giant Nut Room Squirrels, even the ensemble cast shine brightly. And the crew shining the everchanging spotlights on these colourful characters do a remarkable job in keeping track and pace.
I was surprised to learn that the part of Willy Wonka is actor Stephen Anderson’s debut lead role; the guy seems like a veteran on stage. Anderson is quick with the jokes, clear in his delivery, and will even make you laugh when he’s showing you that he’s in on the joke.
No matter how old you are, or where you sit on the theatre/slash/musical/slash/comedy spectrum, this genre-bending show is a must-see. Get your Golden Ticket now.
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The Musical’ is on at Crown Theatre until November 28th, 2021. Tickets range from $69.00 to $139.00 and are available on 13 62 46 or through crownperth.com.au. Be sure to check out the Wonka-themed food and beverages being offered by Crown, too, throughout the musical’s season.