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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

June 30, 2013

The Theatre Royal Drury lane 1663 – 2013 is the grandest of London’s theatres and in recent decades has become the home of the big musical. Opening last week, Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY – THE NEW MUSICAL by any measure is big. It is also great fun and full of imagination and it must be seen to be believed.

The recent Warner Brothers movie with Jonny Depp is clearly the inspiration behind the concept for this production. Some scenes and much of the design are straight out of the movie. However the translation from screen to stage has been imaginatively interpreted into a very clever smooth and flowing staging which gave me the feeling that sometimes I was watching a cartoon, sometimes tv, sometimes a movie but mostly a very imaginative stage musical.

Charlie played by 11 year old Louis Suc at our performance (there are four actors for each child role) and Grampa Joe played by Nigel Planer are fantastic but the beginning of the show was slow and I missed a musical number that really grabbed my attention. All change when we are cleverly introduced to Augustus Gloop and Mrs Gloop. Hilarious. Veruca Salt and Mr Salt, Violet Beaurogarde and Mr Beauregarde and for me especially Mike Teavee and Mrs Teave had me smiling from ear to ear. Innovative, imaginative and brilliantly executed staging and performances.

And then it only gets better. Douglas Hodge (who I already love for his Olivier and Tony Award winning portrayal of Albin/ZaZa in La Cage Aux Folles) ignites the stage as Willy Wonker enters with a stomping musical number to end the first act “It Must Be Believed to Be Seen”. I also particularly love his next number “Strike That! Reverse It!” The show only gets better with the arrival of the Oompa-Loompars. In the scenes which closely follow the Warner Brothers movie the Oompa-Loompar dance routines are very imaginatively costumed, choreographed and lit bringing the stage alive with almost manic delight.

(Plot Spoiler alert!!!) For me though the most magical part of the show is when Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonker gets aboard the glass elevator with Charlie and as they float over the front stalls and Douglas Hodge beautifully sings “Pure Imagination“. This is the song from the original wonderful Gene Wilder movie “Willy Wonker and the Chocolate Factory”. One of my all time favourite movie songs which I was humming all day before the show without the slightest idea that it would be in the show. At our performance (which was only the second after opening night) just before landing the elevator had a technical hitch and Willy Wonker and Charlie were left stranded in the air for a few minutes. Douglas Hodge had the audience laughing when he said to Charlie “I told you not to press that button”.

There is nothing like being taken back to the magical feeling of childhood and that is exactly the journey that Sam Mendes’ “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” took me on.

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