This post is part of my “Broadway in Review” series, where I explore shows on and off Broadway, including national tours and out-of-town engagements.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Original Broadway Cast)
I wish I had seen this in London.
This one is interesting. Technically it should have been a transfer from West End, but the powers that be at Warner Brothers decided they needed to gut the score and the script and make a lot of changes, for better and for worse. As a result it’s a wholly different beast.
It’s kind of fun, especially I assume for kids, but I can’t say that it had a great deal of magic to it. Not enough humor, a badly cast Wonka and a score that still isn’t quite great means this is a show that can’t stand up to the others.
The good: Re-integrating more of the Bricusse/Newley/Scharf music from the film was a great idea. (To be clear, we’re talking about the 1971 film, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory by Paramount Pictures, not the horrible Johnny Depp version.) I am told that they added the Great Glass Elevator—a good change—and made the Oompa-Loompas more prevalent, which I also think was good (though some critics will disagree). Critics think changing the kids to adult actors (except for Charlie) was a bad idea, but I disagree. They were able to do a lot more advanced work with those characters as a result (witness Veruca’s balette number with the evil squirrels, or Violet’s new super-powered R&B-ish intro number).
The bad: Some of the song replacements were a downgrade. They even didn’t bother realizing that the phrase “Howdja do” from the song they cut should maybe not be repeated later in the show several times as if the audience knows it? Because we don’t. Because you cut the song, you idiots. For all the money WB supposedly spent on the show, I can’t really say that it, well, shows. I expected more on the tech/set side.
The score: This gets a special section because whoever is in charge of this stuff decided to royally screw with the score on its way to America. Mike Teavee and Violet Beauregarde get new intro songs that are frankly terrible. I think (especially in the case of Mike), that the idea was to “Americanize” it more, but that wasn’t necessary.
They did add a new finale number (“The View From Here”). This song is Very Good™ and is now the second-best song in the show. It’s the only song that really utilizes Borle, and it feels like the show cast him for this song, which was maybe not a good idea. The best song is still “If Your Father Were Here,” though they had to mess that one up, too. The London version is better.
Marc Shaiman generally has a similar ear to me. Therefore I can only assume that the rest of the creative team and/or producers overruled his choices in this version of the score. That being said, the London version still wasn’t all roses. The overall piece never quite gelled, and this one doesn’t either, probably due to the disjointed story Mr. Dahl created. (Still, as you’ll see in my Groundhog Day review, there is an easy way to fix that: add a ton more humor.)
The cast: Christian Borle is wayyyyyyy better than Douglas Hodge from the London version. Wait—strike that! Reverse it!—oh, the games the mind can play. Let’s be clear: I love Christian Borle, and I got front-row seats to get up close and personal. But he is a terrible, terrible choice for this role. To get an idea of what I mean: when the Broadway cast album comes out, grab it and the London version. Then listen to “It Must Be Believed To Be Seen” and “Strike That! Reverse It!” on both versions. I’m very sad I missed Mr. Hodge in the role.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Verdict: Skip unless you have kids. Kids will love it.
NB: As with Anastasia, this show worked for a lot of theatregoers around me. Many had a blast. The couple next to me commented, “That was great!” So keep in mind that my bar is very high, and I approached this with previous knowledge of the West End version.