“Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.
Sometimes you can bake with good ingredients and still come out with a dessert that falls flat.
Who knew ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ would be a recipe for disaster?
With a cast including Emily Padgett, Jackie Hoffman, John Rubinstein, Michael Wartella and starring two-time Tony Award-winner Christian Borle as Willy Wonka, the actors aren’t the real problem.
And Borle was so charming and dastardly as William Shakespeare in ‘Something Rotten’ and as Black Stache in ‘Peter & the Starcatcher.’
Christian Borle; photo: Playbill
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote the songs- and they wrote the music for ‘Hairspray.’
And some of the songs here are pretty good. A few, anyway. Especially “If Your Father Were Here,” sung beautifully by the talented Emily Padgett, as Charlie Bucket’s mom.
The director, Jack O’Brien, has won three Tony Awards- including one for a Musical: ‘Hairspray.’
Certainly the Willy Wonka film, though not a masterpiece, had universal appeal- much of it supplied by Gene Wilder.
But this musical’s script- also known as the book- by David Grieg?….Ouch.
Yeah, that is where the problems start.
He has a lot of credits- but none on Broadway. Why was he chosen to adapt this for the Broadway stage?
The maiming and dismembering of children can’t come off like ‘Sweeney Todd’- which Jack O’Brien also directed. Yet, it kinda’ does here.
The jokes, such as they are, have rust on them and can be seen coming a mile away. They evoke more groans than laughs- except when Jackie Hoffman delivers them. She gets laughs. And, sure, the kids in the audience laugh at the burp and flatulence jokes.
In the show, the “bad kids”- Veruca Salt, Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde and Mike Teavee- are basically human cartoon characters – though only Mike Teavee actually gets turned into one.
But where is the chemistry between good kid Charlie Bucket and his Grandpa?
Or between Willy Wonka and Charlie- which is essential to the show’s ending? It simply isn’t there. And that is where this show falls apart.
Maybe that bond is missing because there are three boys playing Charlie in rotation each week. But other shows- like ‘Billy Elliot’- made that work.
And here the set design doesn’t really help either.
The sets change looks from minimalist steam punk ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ to ‘Captain Nemo’ to 1960’s-era ‘Star Trek.’ And, no, I have no idea why either.
So, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ falls flat overall with just a few flashes that fly and I give it only 2 stars out of 5. It should be a crime to waste Christian Borle like this.
Folks, if you have kids, or grandkids, and want to take them to see a really good Broadway family show, go see ‘Wicked,’ ‘Phantom’ or ‘Anastasia’ instead. All are far better options- and I will give you my complete Guide to Family Shows on Broadway another time soon.
Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews.
This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”