The Chocolate Factory’s Sweet Magic

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Published: 22nd August, 2019

Sometimes it’s great to be a kid again and relive those times when you were taken to the theatre for a special treat. That’s the buzz you get as the orchestra blasts off at the beginning of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – the new musical.

You need to be in the mood for a whimsical story where good eventually triumphs over those less attractive sides of human nature – and the world can do with plenty of that with its current challenges! This classical Roald Dahl tale mixes genuine sweetness with some touches of nastiness along the way to an upbeat ending.

Young Charlie Bucket (Lenny Thomas) on opening night is a good-hearted little chap, living in abject poverty with four grandparents and his mother, Mrs Bucket (Lucy Maunder). He is also a chocoholic, but they are so poor that it’s cabbage leaves for dinner most nights and only one bar of Wonka chocolate on his birthday. But a competition is announced for five lucky children to find golden tickets in the Wonka bars to have a tour of the factory.

Central to the story is Willy Wonka (American Paul Slade Smith), who is disguised as a chocolate shop owner with a mean streak. If he were in the schoolyard, he would be doing time out for bullying. But young Charlie is not deterred and takes his tall-story telling grandfather, Grandpa Joe (Tony Sheldon) with him on the tour when he wins the last golden ticket. Charlie meets the other winners and their parents, who are a motley lot displaying avarice, greed, overweening egos, and more. Eventually, justice triumphs and life for Charlie in the future looks bright.

While the emphasis is on virtue triumphing, there are many typically Roald Dahl moment displaying the dark side of the human condition. But this is a bright musical, with fabulous puppetry work to represent the Ooompa Loompas. Performance honours go to Paul Slade Smith, Tony Sheldon in a magical performance as Grandpa Joe, and Lucy Maunder’s nicely judged Mrs Bucket – bonus points for her gorgeous singing voice. Lenny Thomas is an engaging Charlie who is totally believable. Karina Russell as Veruca Salt, Jayme-Lee Hanekom as Violet Beauregard, Harrison Riley as Mike Teavee and Jake Fehily as Augustus Gloop are all wonderfully loathsome as Charlie’s fellow Golden Ticket winners. Of the minor characters, Kanen Breen as Charlie’s other grandfather is a treat.

Kellie Dickerson conducts an excellent small orchestra and the hard working ensemble is impressive. This is an engaging show and a great one for theatre newbies to discover the magic of live theatre.

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Julie Houghton reviewed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on August 15th at Her Majesty’s Theatre.  The show runs through Dec 1, 2019; tickets available through ticketek.com.au.