Written by Hannah Darcey, junior at Mount Carmel Academy. Mentored by Warren Bell.
In the middle of the energetic and enthusiastic number “Willy Wonka!” a crackling and faint voice came on the intercom, spreading news that the touring musical “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” needed to be stopped due to technical difficulties.
The opening night of the highly-awaited musical began to look as if it may not continue. Regulars to the Saenger Theater had rarely seen a show stopped before, proving to be an unusual occurrence. But after 20 minutes of idle chatter and waiting, the show was able to begin again.
Though this mishap seemed like a bad forshadowing for a shaky rest of the show, the cast continued on without hesitation and proved to impress with a spectacular performance. Audience members of all ages—ranging from small kids to adults—came to view the family-friendly show, whether they had seen the 2013 musical before, read the book, and/or seen the movie. Or have done neither.
A big projected screen encompassed the stage, changing the background from scenes of a cloud-filled sky with the factory in the distance, to a city with the silhouette of a bridge, and to a night sky filled with tiny bright shining stars. Before the show, another screen hung in front of the stage, depicting Willy Wonka from behind, looking back at his famous chocolate factory. This created a tidy parallel to the end of the show, where Charlie dresses in a candy maker outfit next to Wonka as they both gaze upon Charlie’s newly inherited chocolate factory.
While the young Charlie was sweet as a Wonka bar, and Willy Wonka was all over the place like a gobstopper, the undoubted show-stealing characters were the notorious tiny, orange oompa loompas. The minute they appeared on stage, the crowd roared and burst out into laughter. Actors in black bodysuits walk on their knees to control the tiny bodies with their arms, creating a funny appearance to the well-known silly character.
Another creative character design choice that stood out were the squirrel workers in the factory. When Veruca Salt demands to get one of Wonka’s pet squirrels, she follows them into a factory room. The squirrels wore big, masterfully-crafted mascot heads and suits with glowing eyes as they followed and surrounded Veruca throughout the scene.
Other characters such as Violet Beauregarde had unfamiliar-looking costumes to the traditional book and movies. This production took a new twist and gave her the nickname, “Queen of Pop,” which called for a purple exercise jacket and sweatpants with a purple headband, reminiscent of The Cheetah Girls, a 2003 Disney film.
The ensemble cast did not have many big numbers, but when they did, they clearly earned the spotlight on them. The energy they brought lit up the stage and their collective voices sounded like a perfectly constructed choir. Their performance in the show definitely added to the show’s overall high-energy atmosphere.
The final duet with Charlie, played by Brody Bett, and Wonka, played by Cody Garcia, was a sweet moment, seeing the two actors connect with one another. The actors made a great partnership, showing a mentor influencing and helping out a student looking up to him who was getting ready to take over the role as the new Candy Man.
First shown in London in 2013, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” provided a bit of a surprise to some audience members in that all of the children in the musical were played by adults. All of them except for Charlie, whose youth shines through his character. His character gave a contrast to the other “children” because he brought a silly and energetic charisma to his role.
Many of the settings were produced digitally, but big props throughout the show like the Bucket house caught the eye of the audience even in the back rows. The house had two stories cut at a cross-section, with the recognizable small bed for the grandparents, with precise details like the initials CB (Charlie Bucket) lit up in bright, shining letters on the back. Another spectacular piece was the tall and extravagant factory gates that the lucky golden ticket winners got to walk through excitedly.
In this version of the classic, the glass elevator brings Charlie home, creating one of the most mesmerizing scenes, as it rose up on the stage with a starry night sky behind Charlie and Willy Wonka. While in the elevator, the projected background depicted blue rectangles that appeared to be windows, that slowly spiraled behind them as they drifted upwards.
The world of the Candy Man is not one that many have seen acted out on stage, but the lucky ticket holders got to see a performance like no other in this Chocolatier’s world of pure imagination.