“I’ve got a golden ticket! I’ve got a golden ticket!” Or at least that was what I was singing to myself when I got £15 tickets to the brand new musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory currently previewing (thus a discount on the tickets!) at the newly renovated Theater Royal Drury Lane. I hadn’t been to that house since Anything Goes some eight years ago, though that had a lot to do with the programming – Shrek? Lord of the Rings? Somehow the stuff that was making it to one of London’s biggest theaters was not the kind of stuff I wanted to see. But Charlie definitely was – as one of the two Roald Dahl books I read growing up, it had a real appeal. And I’d enjoyed the movies. What kind of imaginative vision would drive the stage version? And would there actually be great songs in it so that it would wind up being the kind of musical that joined the pantheon of Shows For All Time? I just had to know! And, well, it was my roommate’s birthday, and a good present (since Once doesn’t seem interested in offering me reviewers comps).
SO! There were certainly some preview hiccups, as our Charlie (I presume there’s more than one) forgot the lines to his song at one point, and there were some problems getting the grandparents’ bed to reassemble, but mostly the technical issues seem to be taken care of. I’d say the show is really 90% there, and that if you are in a hurry – just in London once this summer or in dire need of affordable tickets – you won’t be missing much if you go to a preview. Certainly the audience I was with thought so – I caught DEAD SILENCE coming from the 2nd balcony at one moment in the second act (rather than rustling, chatting, and whining, which you might expect from the percentage of kids in the audience) and there were lots of people standing up at the end clapping. It makes me think that the fact that that the songs were kind of boring you can’t hear their words didn’t really matter to anyone else there, but, you know, it’s not like a theater that big is really addressing itself to my tastes. I mean, hey! Seven people living in one dirty hovel trying to live off of a bowl of soup, yet all cheerful? It’s the tabloid media’s dream of how to handle poverty come to life!
What was fun about this show for me was the updated characters of Violet Beauregarde and Mike Teavee (now a child rap star and a video game fanatic) and, well, the Oompa Loompas. I expected they would have been done with naturally short people, but instead they were done sort of as combo people/puppets – which meant they were able to do incredible acrobatic feats that would have been entirely impossible with real people. These two things came together to electrifying effect in Mike Teavee’s final scene, a dance number called “Vidiot” that involved black light, glowing costumes, AND rollerskating Oompa Loompas. It was like it was made just for me.
So overall, I think this was a fun musical that will have a broad appeal, and that it’s likely to settle in for a long run in its home. I’d like to go back to see it in a few months and see what has changed, but I don’t think I could afford the tickets!
(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, June 5, 2013. It’s booking into the far, far future – See Tickets has it through November but my understanding is that it’s scheduled well into 2013.(