If you are like me, your introduction to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was seeing the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder. This was also most likely my first introduction to dark humor. I’ve never read the original book by Roald Dahl’s or seen the more recent Tim Burton film adaptation so I don’t know how they compare. My expectations going into the show at DPAC this past Tuesday night were squarely based on the original film.
I think this production does a fine job telling the crazy story of Willy Wonka and his plan to find a heir to take over his beloved chocolate factory. It’s still a mixture of imagination and wonder with a dash or two of old fashioned dark human nature. As you might expect, his story proves a bit challenging to portray on stage as a family musical, but in the end this production, directed by Jack O’Brien, does the story justice while keeping it suitable for the whole family.
Understudy Benjamin Howes did a wonderful job playing the lead role on opening night. Wonka is a complicated character when you really think about it. He is the mysterious maker of the chocolate everyone loves, but he isn’t really what you would call a “nice guy”. In fact he is more concerned about the quality of his chocolate than the well being of the kids touring his factory. But Howes, pulled off the character exceptionally well, and his vocals were always on point.
Charlie Bucket was played by Rueby Wood on Tusesday night. His portrayal of Charlie brought a kindness and optimism that was refreshing to see in a character that is usually portrayed more downtrodden due to his life of poverty. Having adults portray the other children who score golden tickets was an interesting twist, but one that works well as they provide a stark contrast to the innocence of charlie. And ultimately when you see Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde and Mike Teavee come to their dark demise, you don’t feel quite as bad, because well they are actually adults…not kids.
This fun and modern version of the story provides a wonderful escape. From the catchy tunes you love from the the original film, to the creative sets and portrayal of the Wonka Factory. The famous Oompa Loompas are quite a treat as well, but I will not give too much away about them as they add to the the magic of the production.
Ultimately while this show has it dark humored moments, Charlie leaves us all with an inspiring message. No matter where you come from, or what obstacles you face, don’t be afraid to dream big!
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” plays at DPAC through through Sunday February 17th. For tickets visit: https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/charlie-and-the-chocolate-factory