Review: ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

By Jonathan Spira on 29 April 2017
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I was excited. Finally, the musical based on Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” has made it to the Great White Way.

Its came by means of London’s West End where I saw it several years ago and greatly enjoyed the never-ending spectacle of glow-in-the-dark costumes, automaton squirrels, elaborate videos, and an unending quest for the golden ticket, even if it meant an untimely end for greedy youngsters who meet an unspeakable fate in the Willy Wonka factory that gloomily looms over the city as does the castle in the 1974 film “Young Frankenstein.”

That is, after all, what young Charlie is after, something that will move him and his family out of a life of squalor and give him the opportunity to use his apparently unparalleled knowledge of all things chocolate at the Wonka factory.

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The problem is that the Broadway “Charlie” is a poor copy of its London incarnation. Unlike the original, the first act of the current “Charlie” left me numb and wondering if I’d make it through the second act.

Charlie appears to live on the edge of a garbage dump with his poor and eccentric extended family (all four grandparents share a bed and apparently never ever leave it). Charlie Bucket (in this performance, Jake Ryan Flynn) is a dreamer, an inventor, traits he has in common with Willy Wonka himself (Christian Borle), to whom he penned a letter describing his circumstances and whom he meets early on when Wonka goes out into the world disguised of all things as a candy salesman.

The buildup to any action at all in the first act is tedious. Indeed, anything of any consequence really happens in the final minutes of the first act or in the second act, including the truly unique dance sequences by the Oompa-Loompa factory workers portrayed by dancers merged physically with puppets.

Charlie – as well as four candidates for juvenile delinquent of the year – finds a so-called “Golden Ticket” in a bar of Wonka chocolate, entitling him to vie for a mysterious prize. The other contestants include Mike Teavee (Michael Wartella), for whom life only exists on his smartphone’s screen (some of the best moments in the show come from the interaction between his mother, portrayed by Jackie Hoffman in a June Cleaver-meets-Desperate-Housewives kind of way) and Borle’s Wonka, Augustus Gloop (F. Michael Haynie), a rotund Bavarian lad who can’t stop eating Wurst, Veruca Salt (Emma Pfaeffle), daughter of a Russian oligarch, and Violet Beauregarde (Trista Dollison), whose credentials include winning bubble-gum chewing championships.

There is one moment that is memorable, but not because of the show: that’s “The Candy Man,” which is best known as the 1972 pop hit sung by Sammy Davis Jr. Sadly, Mr. Borle is no Mr. Davis and his detached rendition of what could have been a show-stopping number serves only to stir up memories of better performances. However, the Dylan’s candy bars sold in the lobby are pretty good and all in all bound to be more satisfying than the show itself.

THE DETAILS

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
205 W 46th Street
New York, N.Y.
www.luntfontannetheatre.com

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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