A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to get two tickets to go see the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Broadway with Princeton University.
As a student still living on campus in the college dorms, I was able to get discounted tickets (only $25 each, including travel, what a bargain!) to watch a daytime showing of the musical in NYC. While I was excited to break out of Princeton’s orange bubble (lingo that we use on-campus since Princeton is a pretty secluded community!) to go explore the city, however, the musical itself was pretty disappointing.
Going into the musical, I expected nothing but good things. As a child, I grew up reading Roald Dahl’s books and knew the plot of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory pretty well. The story was familiar to me, and I had seen the movie (just one of the adaptations of the book), which I thought was great. For me, the musical was another way for me to enjoy the childhood story that I loved so much, and see it come to life.
So maybe it was because of the high expectations I had going in, but for me, the musical fell short. The biggest reason why I think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a modern children’s classic of sorts is because of the magic that is in the story. While I didn’t expect the musical to be able to replicate some of the special effects that the movie adaptation had (let’s face it, creating magic on a stage is much harder than creating magic using software and editing after filming), or the magic that was written into the original narrative, I expected that the director of the musical would try something more than just having the audience imagine that magic was happening on the stage. In particular, one scene stood out to me, in which to get from one side of the stage to the other, the characters mimed crossing an invisible obstacle course, with sound effects playing in the background to create comedic value. Very few props were used in the recreating the factory on the stage, and for me, it made it very difficult for me to be invested in the magic of the story.
Not all of the musical was a shambles however. While I’ll admit that I think that Charlie’s backstory was poorly developed and a weird mix of comedically tragic and just plain sad (they should have made it one or the other!), I liked that the directors were creative with the backstory of the other children in the books. Although I thought it was strange at first to see a classic children’s story like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have pop culture references of millennials, the imaginative ways that the directors/writers reinvented different characters was pretty amusing. All of the children had a different backstory with a song describing their large personalities: Augustus Gloop was an obese Bavarian boy who loved sausages, Mike Teavee was an American juvenile delinquent who hacked Wonka’s system to get a ticket, Veruca Salt was the spoiled Russian ballerina daughter of a rich businessman, and Violet Beauregard was a wannabe celebrity from the West Coast who regularly posts on social media.
All-in-all, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a disappointing musical to watch. Little of the magic from the story was recreated on stage, and with poor character development on the whole, there wasn’t much to reel me in as a member of the audience.
For anyone looking for a good musical to watch on Broadway for the first time, I would recommend Wicked, which is my all-time favourite musical, and Book of Mormon for anyone looking for a good laugh.