DPAC's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" Treats Viewers to a Truly Fantastical World of "Pure Imagination"
Almost everyone has seen some iteration of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Whether they’ve read Roald Dahl’s original book, watched the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder, or have checked out the somewhat bizarre Tim Burton adaptation, it’s a fun and fantastical morality tale that most are familiar with. However, this familiar story takes on a whole new twist and becomes more fantastical than ever in DPAC’s presentation directed by Jack O’Brien. This new version, featuring songs from the original film as well as a delightful new score, is akin to every child’s wildest dreams and proves truly magical from start to finish.
At Tuesday’s opening night performance, understudy Benjamin Howes found himself in the role of Willy Wonka. However, the production played out as if he had always held this role. Indeed, Howes emanated the perfect mix of dark humor and kid-friendliness (at least to the kids in the audience), making this character every bit as out-there and still-loveable as possible.
Likewise, Tuesday’s Charlie, as portrayed by young Rueby Wood, was purely perfect in his role. While Charlie is often portrayed as a sad, downtrodden character- understandable due to the poverty he lives in- Wood creates a spunky, wonderfully optimistic Charlie that audiences easily fall in love with.
As viewers get to know Charlie in the first act, his bleak world is enlivened by imaginative set pieces, including the amazing bed/house piece that is home to Charlie, his mother (Amanda Rose), and most importantly, his Grandpa Joe (James Young). Young has fun with Grandpa Joe’s crazy stories, which make him seem indeterminably old…at least until it’s revealed that he is exactly “ninety and one half.”
And, while the well-acted characters all prove fun, sympathetic, and entirely kid-appropriate, there is definitely some darker humor sprinkled in for the older audience members to enjoy. The grandparents proclaim that they “hope we don’t die in our sleep,” Mike Teavee’s mother (Madeleine Doherty) pops pills and drinks wine with gusto, and some of the later scenes that take place at the factory are grisly in a way that pays homage to the original film.
What kids will take away, however, is the inspiration the Charlie character provides. He is a boy who is not afraid to dream big. In fact, the production itself seems to be a celebration of big dreams, imagination, and creativity, things which, as the clever script alludes, are sadly dying out in today’s world.
While the script sticks fairly close to the original film, it is not afraid to add in a few modern adages, never delivered heavy-handedly. For example, young Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino) is still obsessed with television, but he’s also obsessed with his tablet. And Violet Beauregarde (Brynn Williams) and her father (David Samuel) are overly concerned with posting every detail of the character’s journey to Instagram. These smart but subtle references add modernity and depth to the adaptation.
And, while the morality of the first act still manages to be plenty of fun in its own right, it’s practically sedated compared to the magic and wonder of the second act.The creators of this show seem to have taken the “The Candy Man” lyric literally- the one which states, “Talk about your childhood wishes.” For, once the characters have entered the lair that is Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, nothing short of pure magic or, at least, pure imagination ensues.
The world of Wonka is designed colorfully and fantastically. And, while to say too much would be to give away the delightful surprises of the second act, key moments include Mike Teavee’s amazing “transformation,” Violet’s “bloating,” and, especially, Veruca’s…coming apart. These crazy scenes unfold without a hitch, often leaving viewers shocked and in true wonderment. If the original film was put on steroids and then freaked out times ten, it could almost compare to the amazement this production provides.
Anyone who needs an escape from life (and, honestly, who doesn’t these days?) will be enthralled by this child-like but not childish show. Brilliantly acted, incredibly fun, and beyond amazing in so many aspects, this is the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory you’ve believed in all your life.
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