by Mark G. Auerbach
I’ve always been a fan of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, a story deliciously covered in chocolate. I read the book after seeing the now famous film version, Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder and those two Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse songs, now pop standards, “Pure Imagination” and “The Candy Man”, and I always thought that this movie had “Broadway musical” written all over it.
Someone must have heard my idea, and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, a musical, opened in London in 2013. In 2017, it crossed the Atlantic, and I had put on the top of my “must see” list. The musical, with book by David Greig, a score by.Hairspray’s Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, staged by Broadway veteran Jack O’Brien. It featured choreography by Joshua Bergasse, the up-and-coming super talent who had choreographed Barrington Stage’s and later, Broadway’s On The Town, and it starred funny man Christian Borle, and in a supporting role, Berkshires born and raised actor Michael Wartella
Unfortunately, the musical was poorly received and had a brief run. Its creators went back to the rawing board to fix and reimagine some of the production’s shortfalls, and the newly revamped Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is on tour, playing Hartford’s Bushnell this week.
The touring production at The Bushnell through Sunday is engaging, and much better than the word-of-mouth coming from those who saw it on Broadway. Mark Thompson’s sets and costumes are eye-catching, and Jeff Sugg’s projections are dazzling. Joshua Bergasse’s choreography, particularly for the Oompa Loompas is superb. “Venica’s Nutcracker Sweet”, danced by Jessica Cohen as a bratty Russian child ballerina and squirrels is, a the Candy Man states, “satisfying and delicious”.
But, the Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman score, David Greig’s book, and Jack O’Brien’s staging lacks the wow factor that so many other family fare offerings, from The Lion King to Wicked, have achieved at The Bushnell. Wisely, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’s creatives included a couple of Anthony Newley’s and Leslie Bricusse’s songs from the film–”The Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination” are the best in the score.
Henry Boshart played Charlie on opening night; he shares the riole with two other actors, and his performance was accomplished. Benjamin Howes, an understudy, played Willy Wonka, and his performance was solid. Kudos to the ensemble who played the Oompa Loompas, and puppeteer Basil Twist, who made them so inventive..
The Bushnell presents Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Book by David Greig; Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman; Based on the novel by Roald Dahl; Songs from the Motion Picture by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley; Music orchestrated by Doug Besterman; Music arranged by Marc Shaiman; Additional Orchestrations by Michael Starobin; Musical Director: Charlie Alterman; Production Music Director: Keith Levenson. Scenic Design by Mark Thompson; Costume Design by Mark Thompson; Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman; Sound Design by Andrew Keister; Projection Design by Jeff Sugg; Puppet and Illusion Design by Basil Twist; Directed by Jack O’Brien; Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse. Through February 24 at The Bushnell, Hartford, CT. 860-987-5900 or www.bushnell.org.
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio. Mark produces and hosts ArtsBeat Radio on 89.5fm/WSKB Radio.