Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
National Tour
Review by David Edward Hughes

Rueby Wood
Photo by Joan Marcus
Roald Dahl's eerie yet charming children's book "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" has seen more transformations than anything that happens in the book. But films are forever, and whether it's impishly charming Gene Wilder as the factory's mysterious owner Willy Wonka (1971) or Johnny Depp's darker-hued turn in that role (2005), generations have grown up with one or the other or both.

The stage musical had a very successful three-year run in the West End with only one song ("Pure Imagination") from the first film score (music by Anthony Newley and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse) interpolated, and all new songs by the team of Marc Shaiman (composer/lyricist) and Scott Wittman (co-lyricist). But what Broadway got was seriously changed, with "The Candy Man," "I've Got a Golden Ticket," and the "Oompa Loompa" from the original film in addition to "Pure Imagination" plus changes to some of the Shaiman/Wittman score as well.

The national tour of the Broadway version, playing for two weeks at the Paramount, is 75% delightful but 25% disappointing and unevenly paced.

Young Charlie Bucket loves Willy Wonka candies. Wonka, disguised as a candy vendor, conspires (with Charlie's unsuspecting input) to launch a contest in which five lucky kids (and an adult family member with each) will get a tour of the long-shuttered factory if they buy a Wonka Bar and find a golden ticket. Charlie's family is so poor that his grandparents all share a bedroom and his bread-winner widowed mother is over-stressed and underpaid. All Charlie wants is one of the candy bars, believing he will find a golden ticket. After he gets a bar with no ticket, all seems lost—until he notices one dollar on the floor of the candy vendor's shop. He uses it to buy another bar, and yes, there is a golden ticket for him (four particularly spoiled and greedy kids have the others). End of act one as they await entrance to the factory.

This second act better be good—and it sure is. It just takes 90 minutes and intermission for the treacherous trip to candy nirvana to begin (unless you or your kids cheat and buy sweet concessions). No spoilers here, even though the wicked fun and heightened production values guarantee this is not a show with "second act troubles."

The opening night Charlie was an angelic-voiced, old-soul type of charmer named Rueby Wood (alternating with two other young actors), who has a solid grasp of how this role should be played. Willy Wonka is played by the talented song and dance man Noah Weisberg, who gives it the old college try. But the proficient, updated but ultimately uninspired script adaptation by David Grieg does him no favors, and Weisberg's interpretation ends up a little bit charming and more often a little too much hard sell. He soars, however, on two key Shaiman and Wittman delights: "It Must Be Believed to Be Seen" and "The View from Here."

Charlie's suddenly spritely-again Grandpa Joe is as endearing as he is eccentric in the person of stage veteran James Young, while Amanda Rose lightens the role of Charlie's mother, Mrs. Bucket, with a winsome warmth, especially on her lovely rendition of "If Your Father Were Here" (the father was cut from the London run). The four other Golden Ticket kids—gluttonous Augustus Gloop, vicious Veruca Salt, self-absorbed Violet Beauregarde, and media-mad Mike Teavee—are played as deliciously annoying grotesques by Matt Wood, Jessica Cohen (a fine dancer), Brynn Williams and Daniel Quadrino. One assumes it would be problematic to tour with real kids in these roles as well as alternates, and these fine troupers give fully committed comedic performances in these roles. As their parents, Kathy Fitzgerald is a strudelicious Mrs. Gloop, Nathaniel Hackmann is an imposing Russian Mr. Salt, David Samuel serves up L.A. player realness as Mr. Beauregarde, while Madeleine Doherty slays with a Lucy Ricardo look and a zeal for Elaine Stritch type zingers.

A large multi-talented ensemble shifts into really high gear zaniness as Wonka's devoted Oompa Loompa factory workers. The audience adrenaline and cheers go appropriately to another level when these favorite characters take the stage.

Overall, the director and Broadway favorite Jack O'Brien deserves credit for getting a show as mammoth as this to play as well as it does, but it's far from his Hairspray best. Cheers to Joshua Bergasse's electric, acrobatic and amazing choreography. Scenic and costume designer Mark Thompson; lighting designer Japhy Weideman; sound designer Andrew Keister; projection designer Jeff Sugg; puppet designer Basil Twist; and hair, makeup and wig designers Campbell Young Associates all deserve applause for lending their pure imaginations to this production.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, through August 11, 2019, at Seattle's Paramount Theatre, 9th and Pine, Seattle WA. For tickets, visit For more information on the tour, visit