Roald Dahl’s iconic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has delighted for over 50 years.
The 1964 novel has been the subject of many an adaptation, including two feature films and, more recently, a musical. Written in 2013 by Marc Shaiman, David Greig, and Scott Wittman, the musical adaptation has played to West End and Broadway audiences, and made its Australian premiere in Sydney earlier this year. Last night marked the show’s opening at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, and audiences got a taste of what Wonka’s wild and whimsical wonders entail. Featuring classic songs from the original Gene Wilder film (such as “The Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination”) as well as a brand new score, the musical refreshes a well-loved story for a 21st century audience.
In the title role, Lenny Thomas shone as the young, bright eyed Charlie. No stranger to the stage (having previously appeared in School of Rock, Priscilla: Queen of the Desert and The Boy From Oz), Lenny is clearly at home in the spotlight and has a very bright future ahead of him. Full of enthusiasm, he matched the level of professionalism of his adult co-stars with ease. The role is shared with 4 other boys (Benjamin Belsey, Elijah Slavinskis, Edgar Stirling, and Lachlan Young) and they alternate for each performance.
Theatre veteran Tony Sheldon was ever the showman as Grandpa Joe, complete with saucepan helmet. His boyish charm and frequent historical references made an already loveable character even more so. Lucy Maunder was a caring and gentle Mrs Bucket, with “If Your Father Were Here” a beautiful moment.
The quartet of fellow contestants – Augustus Gloop (Jake Fehily), Veruca Salt (Karina Russell), Violet Beauregard (Jayme-Lee Hanekom), and Mike Teavee (Harrison Riley) – were a dash of laughter and splash of nonsense. Each was very distinct in their characterisations, fabulously contrasting one another. Accent work was especially impressive in Fehily and Russell, as a Baviarian and Russian respectively. All of the factory visitors were ridiculous in their own brilliant way, but particular highlights were Stephen Anderson as the stoic Mr. Salt and Jade Westaby as the deluded (and somewhat alcoholic) Mrs. Teavee.
However, the absolute standout was Paul Slade Smith’s Willy Wonka. With charm and charisma oozing like a lava cake, there was never a dull moment with him on stage, with his rendition of the Act 1 finale “It Must Be Believed To Be Seen” completely show-stopping. His comedic timing was impeccable, and the audience revelled in every single line, whether it was shouted, mumbled, or sung. Willy Wonka is a role with high expectations attached, and Slade Smith superseded every single one. His commitment to the role is evident, and his joy and enthusiasm is clearly mirrored in the rest of the cast.
A perfect trifecta of set design (Mark Thompson), lighting (Japhy Weideman) and video projection (Jeff Sugg) helped transform Her Majesty’s Theatre into a crazy, colourful, Wonka-tastic world. Albeit a simplistic staging (potentially due to the touring nature of the show), the space was used well and never felt empty. A strong ensemble put the cherry on top of what was already a deliciously delightful night. With some wonderful theatre magic and clever puppetry, the Oompa Loompas came to life with a hilarious performance of “When Willy Met Oompa.” Choreography (by Joshua Bergasse) shines in “Veruca’s Nutcracker Sweet”
For both little and big kids alike, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is jam-packed with flashiness and fun, with a few everlasting gobstoppers thrown in for good measure. A great and nostalgic night out for all – it truly must be believed to be seen.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is playing at Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre until November 3rd.
The show heads to Brisbane’s QPAC from 20 March, 2020.
For tickets and more information, please visit the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory website.