By Manning Harris
Fabrefaction Theatre Conservatory is presenting a musical version of Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” running through May 11.
Fabrefaction is promoting the show as a family musical, but if you’ve read the book or seen its film incarnations (Gene Wilder in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” or Johnny Depp’s 2005 version), you know that for many viewers it’s really more of a black comedy, fraught with all kinds of allegory/parable/metaphor possibilities so that scholarly types can have a field day.
I must say that my personal choice of a hero in these phantasmagorical goings-on is young Charlie Buckett (Christian Conte), a kind and loving boy, living in poverty with his parents and four bedridden (all in the same bed—visually hilarious) grandparents. They subsist primarily on cabbage soup. Charlie’s father (Al Dollar) has lost his job at a toothpaste factory.
Charlie, however chooses to “Think Positive” and sure enough, he gets word of an unusual contest: The enigmatic candy manufacturer Willy Wonka (Craig Waldrip) is placing five Golden Tickets in five candy bars. Whoever finds them will not only get a tour of the Candy Factory (quite a trip) but also a lifetime supply of Willy Wonka’s legendary chocolates. And Charlie is a winner!
In addition we learn that Wonka, realizing he’s not going to live forever, is looking for a suitable person to take over; preferably a sweet, smart child with whom he can entrust his candy-making secrets.
That child would most certainly not be the other entrants: Augustus Gloop (Brittany Crisp), Veruca Salt (Katherine Atkinson), Violet Beauregarde (Amelia Kushner), and Mike Teavee (Mitch Gerding). Wonka finds all of them quite obnoxious. “Annie’s” Miss Hannigan would be apoplectic, for there is a stage full of children, many of them, of course, from Fabrefaction’s Conservatory. There must be close to 40—more than necessary—but it does make Wonka’s ferocious side more understandable.
Craig Waldrip’s Wonka is highly theatrical, magnetic, and quite sinister. One critic described one of the film Wonkas as “a frightening mixture of warmth, psychosis, and sadism.” Mr. Waldrip wisely has a bit more restraint; in addition, he possesses a fine singing voice “Pure Imagination.” He very capably anchors the evening.
Other excellent adults are Chase Stephen Anderson, Diane Dicker, Nolan Martin, Taryn Janelle, and Michael Shikany. As I mentioned, it’s a large cast, directed by Christina Hoff. The music and lyrics are by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley; the musical director is Chris Brant Davis. By the way, it’s very difficult to light the huge Fabrefaction stage, but D. Connor McVey does a valiant job.
Deyah Brenner’s costumes are a triumph—no small feat.
“Willy Wonka” is not a particularly compelling piece of theatre for this viewer, but if you take with you the eyes, ears, and especially the heart of a child, you’re sure to have a good time.
For tickets and information, visit fabrefaction.org.