Who can take a sunrise, sprinkle it in dew, cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two? The touring cast of Broadway's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would want you to believe that they do and, to a certain extent, they may be right. First opened in 2013 on London's West End before getting retooled and coming to Broadway in 2017, the musical based on the classic Roald Dahl novel has arrived on tour in L.A. for the first time at the Hollywood Pantages. Incorporating all the classic songs from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, plus some original tunes by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (the team behind the Hairspray musical), the musical adaptation adds a lot of humor and provides a modern take on the story we all know and love.
The anchor at the center of this tour as the Candy Man himself is Noah Weisberg, a veteran who has appeared on Broadway in South Pacific, Elf and Legally Blonde. “I can't be Gene Wilder. He was brilliant! I knew from my training that the best shot I had at making this role authentic was to bring my heart and my life experiences and my joy and my anger and my sense of humor to the role,” Weisberg says. Indeed, between the comedic writing (book by David Greig), the direction of Tony winner Jack O'Brien (who also worked on Hairspray) and Weisberg's performance in the role, Willy Wonka is the glue that holds the show together and is what really keeps the crowd engaged.
Weisberg lives in Los Angeles and is excited to perform in front of L.A. audiences. “I [am] thrilled to be performing here in L.A.! I've only done one show here before, Enter Laughing at the Wallis in Beverly Hills, and from that experience I know that L.A. audiences are enthusiastic and supportive,” he says. “Plus, I live in both L.A. and N.Y., so it's great to be performing in one of my adopted hometowns.”
Not only did Weisberg make the character of Wonka more his own but the story itself also adds some twists. Taking place in modern times, it provides commentary on today's obsession with technology and social media fame. Gum chewer Violet Beauregarde, for example, is a self-proclaimed “queen of pop” famous on social media for her gum-chewing talents. Mike Teavee, who is obsessed with television in the book, actually obtains his Golden Ticket in the musical by hacking Willy Wonka. The show's take on technological themes also fits with the modern way it's staged, which includes many high-tech LED screens that add color and effects to the whimsical story.
Some of the classic moments of the story, such as Violet turning into a blueberry and Mike being shrunk, are pulled off onstage in a really innovative manner. In fact, the way the musical brings Mike's shrinking to life is one of the show's highlights. Other parts of the story are sometimes brought to life in odd ways, including the squirrels that attack Veruca Salt and even the Oompa Loompas, who are not actually played by little people. Most of these updates are welcome but sometimes the musical tries a little too hard to prove that it takes place in the 21st century.
As for the new music, it's a bit hit-or-miss. Some of the songs are catchy, although not as catchy as Shaiman and Wittman's music for Hairspray, but others are rather forgettable time-fillers.
While the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory isn't groundbreaking, it's definitely entertaining and aesthetically pleasing. Fans of the book as well as the original film will no doubt be happy with this updated take on the story. Overall, as Weisberg says, “The show gives you what you remember from the movie but also takes you on a lot of unexpected twists and turns that you'd never see coming, resulting in a wonderful night at the theater.”
Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; through Sunday, April 14; tickets and info at HollywoodPantages.com/charlieandthechocolatefactory.