Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at The Boston Opera House

February 19, 2019 | By Gillian Brown

The first national tour of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” ran at the Boston Opera House from January 8-20, uplifting the post-holiday lull with its fun and popular tale. The musical, written by David Greig, is based on the 1964 book of the same name by Roald Dahl. It follows Charlie Bucket as he ventures into Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory, which has been closed for years, and has the adventure of a lifetime.


Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus

In this adaptation, there is no discernable place in time or space. This certainly isn’t Great Britain anymore, and whether or not by design, each family seemed to be living in their own time period. The entirety of the first act is devoted to a painstakingly long exposition, which ultimately falls flat. Much of the time is spent showing the penniless Buckets moping about their circumstance and building up the mystique of the chocolate factory. The characters are either depressing, textbook poor folk, or spoiled, dancing cartoons flaunting Golden Tickets. 


Come Act II, the special effects are surprisingly underwhelming, especially when it comes to the infamous chocolate factory. The set is comprised mostly of screens, which is appropriate for scenes with TV addict Mike Teavee, but after a while become tiring and cheesy — essentially lacking in Broadway magic. The show promises a spectacle and a spectacle is not what the audience receives. 


The supposedly family-friendly show is also surprisingly graphic—a dummy resembling one of the characters is ripped apart by the limbs by dancing squirrels. The cynical cheeriness and indifference of Wonka and the knife-wielding Oompa Loompas leave an unsettling feeling. A pill-popping mother tries to sneak in a flask and Grandpa Joe even gets in the word “ass.” 


The music, written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, is largely forgettable and unhummable. Though the soundtrack is largely original, its best songs are the classics “The Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination,” which were written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley for the 1971 film, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” The genres are all over the place and much of it sounds like it was ripped from a Disney Channel movie or tween bubble gum commercial. 


The performances are adequate given the weak source material. Noah Weisberg gives an energetic and darkly cynical performance as Wonka and Henry Boshart holds his own as the titular role of Charlie (Colin Jeffery and Rueby Wood also rotate the role). The entire cast was enthusiastic, if anything, and boasted decent voices. 


The show garners a few laughs here and there, but it lacks the magic. For a show rooted in “pure imagination,” it lacks the eye-opening, jaw-dropping wow factor that transports audiences to a time of childlike wonder. Its story and characters are underdeveloped and one-sided. The first act drags and the second attempts to cram too much. The show might be a fun night out for the family or fans of the story, but those expecting a spellbinding experience will be disappointed. 


Wonka proclaims that the magic of his factory “must be believed to be seen.” If that’s the case, then there must not be much to believe in.