'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'
Now onstage at London, Ontario's Grand Theatre
Credit: Dahlia Katz. Pictured: Mark Uhre as Willy Wonka
"Even adults can learn life messages from stories that seemingly only appeal to children. That forgotten thought becomes abundantly clear watching this slick ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ now onstage at The Grand."
I owe the memory of Roald Dahl the sincerest of apologies over these last years.
I was never a fan of his children’s books and considered them odd growing up. I wasn’t interested in watching the 1971 film where Gene Wilder plays Willy Wonka, either.
What an unimaginative choice to make on my part. Be imaginative, you colossal fool. This slick opening night production of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ at London’s Grand Theatre allows audiences to return to the childhood wonder of imagination.
Although the musical is not at the top of my must-see lists, ‘Charlie’ is worth doing, especially since I’ve never seen the show. There are tuneful songs like ‘The Candy Man’ and ‘Pure Imagination’. There are some glitzy dance numbers to see. Much work has gone into the Grand’s production, and it shows.
But why the apology to Roald Dahl’s memory? ‘Charlie’ becomes a teachable reminder to all, youth and senior, never to lose sight of tapping into imagination at any age. I did. Sometimes, being imaginative can help cope with daily life’s complex, actual, and often harsh realities.
The story focuses on a selfless and compassionate Charlie Bucket (a precocious and adorable Greyson Reign Armer at this performance) who dreams of acquiring one of the five golden tickets to tour Willy Wonka’s (Mark Uhre) Chocolate Factory. Charlie is among the last to find the ticket in a candy bar he purchases. He can’t believe his luck when it finally happens.
Let’s look past this immediate gratification of childhood wants for the moment. What the young Charlie does not recognize to be his luck are the adult role models in his life who care about him. Yes, the father figure is absent. However, he has a mother (poignant moments by Melissa Mackenzie) who works hard because she knows she must do so. She loves her son very much. Although they may not be as sprightly as they once were, Charlie has his two sets of grandparents alive who love him very much: Grandma Georgina (Krystle Chance), Grandma Josephine (Barbara Fulton), Grandpa George (Salvatore Scozzari) and Grandpa Joe (a doting, adventurous David Talbot) who accompanies the young lad on the tour even though he doesn’t feel well.
The other four winners to tour the factory represent deadly vices. There is the gluttonous Bavarian Augustus Gloop (Nathanael Judah), accompanied by his mother (Krystle Chance), and the petulant and greedy Veruca Salt (an over-the-top demanding Nicole Norsworthy) accompanied by her patsy of a father (Salvatore Scozzari) who gives his daughter anything she demands.
We also meet the world champion gum-chewing dancing celebrity Violet Beauregarde (Mikela Marcellin), who is fascinated with fame and achievement no matter the cost. She is accompanied by her father (Aadin Church). There is Mike TeaVee (Elena ‘Elm’ Reyes), a hyper computer hacker who represents the vice of sloth. He is accompanied by his mother (Meg Buchanan-Lunn). Each of these supporting characters has their moment to shine in some terrific song and dance numbers backed by a lively ensemble of dancers. ‘Veruca’s Nutcracker Sweet’ and ‘Auf Wiedersehen Augustus’ are only two examples.
When the five contest winners attend the tour, their parents must sign a dubious and unclear contract. Everyone has no idea what they’re getting themselves into. Couple this with the reality that Wonka does not appear to be what he seems to be on the outside – as the story goes on, we discover that he might be, in fact, a rather dangerous individual.
Scott Penner’s set design remains visually impressive, especially in the second act when everyone finally enters Wonka’s factory. The colours, shapes, and sizes are extraordinary. Every inch of space on the Spriet stage is used to the full extent, and it works. Nothing ever appears cramped. Siobhán Sleath captures gorgeous lighting designs throughout the show with beautiful hues and tints.
Sound is also vital in this production to ensure everything can be heard. For the most part, it is thanks to Brian Kenny’s work. The spoken dialogue is clear. There are moments in a few of the musical numbers where I couldn’t hear all the lyrics. I’m not concerned about this quibble; I’m sure it will be rectified now that the show is running. Cameron Fraser’s projection designs nicely transport us to another world. Skylar Fox’s magic designs are perfectly timed. Something happens in the first act that flies over the audience’s heads and just disappears. Truly outstanding to watch.
Joseph Abetria’s vibrant costume designs are truly remarkable as they help delineate who the characters are. The Oompa Loompas’ costumes are only one example of Abetria’s fine choices he makes.
Director Jan Alexandra Smith, Music Director Alexandra Kane, and Choreographer Robin Calvert joyfully transport the audience to another time with a knowing wink, a tuneful ditty, and a jig of a dance. I liked the introduction of The Candy Man (Mark Uhre in an effective disguise) at the top of Act One. He is an oddity who owns the local candy store. Everyone likes candy; however, Smith, Kane and Calvert cleverly use this opening scene as a teaching moment. Maintain your sense of humour when things get a bit odd in life, as they sometimes will. It’s okay to indulge in a bit of chocolate. Don’t sacrifice your health in the meantime as the contest winners do.
Mark Uhre is a theatrical gem as Wonka. He dances and moves with tremendous fluidity and ease. But Uhre purposefully reveals a dark side to Wonka, as do all humans. This becomes another teaching moment. Uhre shows that some people may not appear the same on the inside when we see them from the outside. For example, when some contest winners get their just deserts for not following instructions or not listening carefully, Uhre simply gives a suggestive stare to the others of “I told you not to do that” and simply moves on as if the individual did not exist.
Harsh, callous, and cold are only three adjectives that may come to mind, but they are reminders to all, as Republican Candace Owens recently told a group of entitled young college sophomores – “Life’s tough. Get a helmet.”
Final Comments: Just because the Christmas/holiday season fast approaches does not mean people will not experience the challenges of daily life that we all face. They will.
Yes, it’s a wonderful time of the year. It’s a filling to the belly time of year. It’s also a grim reminder that life may be harsh for some.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ is that theatrical reminder of this fact. London’s Grand Theatre made a solid choice to stage this production as the holiday season approaches for its razzle-dazzle excitement of colour, song and dance.
Don’t forget the critical messages lying underneath the text.
Running time: approximately two hours and 30 minutes.
The production runs until December 24 on the Spriet Stage at the Grand Theatre, 471 Richmond Street, London, Ontario. Call the Box Office (519) 672-8800 or visit grandtheatre.com for tickets.
GRAND THEATRE presents
Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’
Book by David Greig, Music by Marc Shaiman with Lyrics by Scott Wittman/Marc Shaiman
Based on the novel by Roald Dahl
Songs from the Motion Picture by Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley
Orchestrations by Doug Besterman and arrangements by Marc Shaiman
Directed by Jan Alexandra Smith
Music Director: Alexandra Kane
Choreographer: Robin Calvert
Costume Design: Joseph Abetria
Set Design: Scott Penner
Lighting Designer: Siobhán Sleath
Sound Designer: Brian Kenny
Projections Designer: Cameron Fraser
Magic and Illusions Designer: Skylar Fox
Stage Manager: Kelly Luft
Performers: Greyson Reign Armer/Neela Noble, Matthew Armet, Kih Becke, Meg Buchanan-Lunn, Krystle Chance, Aadin Church, Barbara Fulton, Nathanael Judah, Christopher Lucas, Amanda Lundgren, Mikela Marcellin, Jamie Murray, Nicole Norsworthy, Melissa Mackenzie, Elena “Elm” Reyes, Salvatore Scozzari, Julius Sermonia, Michele Shuster, David Talbot, Mark Uhre.