Charlie’s Pure Imagination @ Broadway in Chicago

3 Stars out of 4

Let’s just get this out of the way: I am a Roald Dahl fangirl.  I’ve made the pilgrimage to Great Missenden and left a yellow pencil on his grave.  I have visited his Plexiglas encased writing hut at the Dahl Story Center and sat in the replica of his writing chair.  I am not certain he would love this show. That said, I still contend that Roald Dahl’s  Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is a family friendly bon bon, a confection that fulfills and delights. 

Dahl’s work always focused on and respected the child: specifically a bright child in a difficult situation. The child is often surrounded by clueless and sometimes malevolent adults.  The child always utilizes their inner resources to triumph over a bad lot.  This musical, derived from the original film, suffers from the same issue that both Charlie films exhibited: the story is more about Willy Wonka than about Charlie Bucket, the diminutive protagonist played winsomely on opening night by Henry Boshart(the role is triple cast) This musical version moves even further from a child’s world by casting adults as the other golden ticket winners. This is an understandable bow to the business of touring Broadway shows: since child actor roles must be double or triple cast and the children must travel with parents and a tutor, and the pool of absurdly talented kids who want to uproot hearth and home to be on the road for months with a show is limited, and since, finally, child actors grow out of roles frequently, it’s far better to skip the logistical nightmare , have a signature child, and build the remainder of the show on grownups.  It’s how most theatre for children is done.  This production features stellar talents as the awful: the ballerina Jessica Cohen as the spoiled Verruca Salt, the over the top Matt Wood as Augustus Gloop, hyper  Daniel Quadrino as Mike Teavee,and  ebullient Brynn Williams as Violet Beauregard .

 My tween companion adored the show: never having read the original or seen the films, she could be completely uplifted by the magical plot of a crazy top hatted candy inventor leaving his factory to an innovative and morally good impoverished boy—a story that serves a counterpoint to our dark times. Her favorite aspect of this technically polished production was the Oompa Loompas: the ensemble in orange wigs operating Basil Twist designed toddle sized puppets.  Oompa Loompas, with their colonial British underpinnings, pose many a problem for contemporary adapters of Charlie: here the puppets are as PC a handling as one could get.

The charismatic Wonka who drives the show is the marvelous Noah Weisberg. He lacks the edginess of Depp and Wilder but can really sing and carry the show like the seasoned Broadway trooper he is.  The music is solid if not memorable, except the two iconic shows from the original movie: “Pure Imagination”, a STEAM theme song if ever there was one , and the ear worm ,“The Candy Man”, which are the two songs you will sing in the minivan on the way home.

Director Jack O’Brien keeps  the show rolling along for a night suitable for younger attention spans.  Jeff Sugg’s projections create that over-sugared hallucinatory feel and the sets by Mark Thompson are playful and visually rich. This is a show for the whole family.

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a short run so act fast: its only scheduled on the Oriental Theatre stage (24 West Randolph Street in downtown Chicago) until October 21, 2018, playing Tuesdays through Sundays. For tickets and more information go to   or