Charlie and The Chocolate Factory• June 14, 2022 •Eccles Theater
Reviewed by Alisha Gregson
When I was offered a chance to attend and review Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on June 14th, at the Eccles Theater, I knew it was an opportunity I could not turn down. I have adored Dahl’s fantastic stories for as long as I can remember. His collection of classic children’s books was an influential and memorable part of my childhood. Just as they were for so many others. I have always hoped they would have a similar impact on my children. It just so happens that we are currently in the middle of what we have been calling our “Roald Dahl Summer”. We have been reading through his magical collection and intend to read all his classics before summer is over. Having just recently read Charlie and The Chocolate Factory to them, I was elated to have the opportunity to see the musical.
I brought my 10-year-old daughter along with me. While I have taken her to many musicals in the past few years, this was her first time at the Eccles Theater. As we walked in and found our seats she looked up to the ceiling and was in awe of the way it was lit up to look like stars in the night sky. This has always been a detail I have loved about the Eccles theater. But seeing her eyes light up while looking up made it even better. As I looked around the audience I noticed lots of other children in attendance. Far more than I am used to seeing at the Theater.
The kids sitting next to me who had come with their Dad and Grandpa, all chatted excitedly about what they were expecting. As they talked about the songs and scenes they hoped would be included I thought about my own expectations for the production.
Being a fan of the book, and both of the movies, I was curious about what would be included, what parts they would choose to leave out, and what new exciting things would be added. As I waited for the musical to start I thought about a Tim Burton biography I read recently. In the chapter of the book covering Burton’s 2005 Charlie and The Chocolate Factory movie, Burton addresses the incredible amount of pressure that came with retelling the classic story. Both the book and original movie were so well-loved. He knew expectations would be high, and making everyone happy would be impossible.
It made me wonder if the writers of this stage version felt that same pressure he once felt. I was curious if the actors backstage preparing for tonight’s performance carried the weight of living up to their literary and cinematic counterparts. I committed myself to let go of any expectations I may have brought, and just enjoy whatever they prepared for us.
As the lights dimmed, the voice of Charlie Bucket told the audience the musical was about to begin. It was time to turn off all phones, no photography or recording would be allowed. We were, however, encouraged to eat as much candy as we wanted. I got chills as the curtains came up while the familiar tune of “The Candyman” from the original movie played during the opening scene. We were immediately introduced to Willy Wonka, played by Cody Garcia. Garcia was energetic and his powerful voice brought his songs to life. I don’t want to give away too much from the musical, but I will mention that Willy Wonka was much more involved in the first half of the musical than I had expected. The different take on the storyline was surprising, but I think it worked very well.
Throughout the production tour, the role of Charlie rotates between 3 young actors. On Tuesday, the part was played by William Goldsman. His enthusiastic performance immediately captured the audience. He continued to amaze us all throughout the night. I enjoyed the creative set design. The scenes bounced between the candy store and Bucket home, with the Wonka factory displayed digitally in the background.
Grandpa Joe, Grandma Josephine, Grandpa George, and Grandma Georgina all lay up in a wooden loft bed. Straying from the book, but following the Gene Wilder movie, Mrs. Buckets was a widow, who worked very hard to provide for her impoverished family. Throughout the rest of the first act, we were introduced to the remaining children and winners of the golden tickets. Augustus Gloop stole the show with his comedic acting and dance moves. He and Mrs. Gloop kept the audience laughing through their entire performance of “More of Him to Love”.
Next was Veruca Salt, who was now a Russian Ballerina, but still a demanding child who would throw fits when told “no”. The character of Violet Beauregarde had been given some modern adaptations. She was now a young Californian influencer consistently “going live” and chasing Tik Tok fame. Mike Teavee was a video game-obsessed delinquent from Iowa who had a habit of disrespecting his wine-obsessed mom.
Each child had their musical number with an original song. But when Charlie finally found his ticket we got to hear the nostalgic song “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”. The first act ended with Wonka dressed in a plum-colored velvet blazer and top hat. He was greeting the children in front of the gates at the Wonka factory.
The 2nd act was full of fun new songs as Willy Wonka took the children on a tour of his factory. I especially enjoyed the first song, “Strike That, Reverse It”. We also heard a couple of old favorites like “Pure Imagination”, and “The Oompa Loompa Song”. I had been looking forward to seeing how the Oompa Loompas would be played. When they walked on stage the entire audience erupted in laughter and cheers. Puppeteers wearing curly red wigs controlled tiny Oompa Loompa bodies. They used their arms as legs and kept their own heads, looking oversized and hilarious on top.
While the rest of the Oompa Loompa songs were not the same ones from the movies, they were still very clever and fun. I was impressed with each new set design as the cast moved throughout the factory, the room with the chocolate waterfall was especially extraordinary. Some fun scenes from the night will not be found anywhere in the book or movies. I thought they were very fun additions to the story.
When it came to Veruca’s scene, they went with the original storyline of nut-cracking squirrels. They made a clever comparison to “The Nutcracker” as Veruca, still dressed like a ballerina, danced with giant squirrels. I was however not prepared for what came next. As the squirrels carried Veruca offstage I did not notice they returned carrying a dummy. Instead of the actress, so I was a little surprised when the squirrels ripped Veruca apart limb by limb. Each giant squirrel was left holding a different piece of her. I won’t give away every surprise as the children end their tour at the various stages. I will say the scenes, while slightly twisted, were playful and funny, not scary and gory. The entire night was full of silly moments and jokes. Some meant for the younger crowd, while many subtle jokes were meant for the adults.
The Musical ended with a beautiful song “The View from Here” as Willy Wonka and Charlie climbed into Wonka’s glass elevator. While it was the perfect end to the story I sat there wishing it wasn’t over yet. Purple confetti streamers shot out over the first few rows as the cast stepped on stage to receive their applause. Charlie was now dressed the same as Willy Wonka, in a matching plum blazer as they both tipped their top hats to the crowd.
I was amazed at all the work that was put into creating this production, from every single member of the cast and crew. The way they brought Roald Dahl’s story to life felt like such a gift. Before getting up to leave I couldn’t help but remember the words they sang earlier, “there is no life I know to compare with pure imagination,” and every part of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical began with exactly that – pure imagination.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory will be concluding its tour right here in Salt Lake City. Tickets are available through June 19th. To buy tickets, click here.