Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Emerald City)

     
     

Sanitized Wonka underestimates child’s intellect

     
     

Willie Wonka in Emerald City's 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at the Apollo Theatre Chicago

  
Emerald City Theatre presents
  
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  
Written by Richard R. George
From fantasy by
Roald Dahl
Directed by
Ernie Nolan
at
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 8  |  tickets: $13-$16  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I get it. This is children’s theater, and for the 3-and-up group at that. However, the Emerald City adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory seems derived from much more recent sources such as ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘The Jersey Shore’. The timeless story from Roald Dahl has held the imaginations of a few generations. It’s about adventure and getting past the bad times with the help of family values. Dahl’s fantasy has a grim undertone that has now been given the cleaned up Grimm treatment.

Violet and Willy Wonka in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' by Emerald City Theatre Chicago.Some blame Walt Disney, but at least his Big Bad Wolf had dripping fangs. This “Charlie” felt like it was put together without much creativity. Let’s start with the characterizations.

Willy Wonka is portrayed as a Rip Taylor rip-off. (Google him) This Wonka didn’t throw confetti but his manic mugging and preening doesn’t get the overwhelmingly under-five crowd revved up at all. (Perhaps he should have run through the audience like Taylor, throwing confetti or copped the punk wig style.) The character of Willy Wonka is more mysterious and even sinister when played by either Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp. Some may say ‘don’t frighten the children’ – but we all survived the green-faced evil queen in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”.

The character of Augustus Gloop becomes a derivative of the SNL Schwarzennegger spoof called ‘Hans and Franz’. The tots didn’t get it and the parents were too busy trying to get them to watch this drivel to connect with the joke either. Veruca Salt is a cell phone-toting brat with a dog in her purse. Calling Paris Hilton! The Character of Mike Teavee is portrayed as an insolent youth obsessed with video games. It was more ripped from the headlines of spree crimes than an updated portrayal. Violet B. is a weird incarnation of the insufferable ‘Snooki’ zeitgeist from reality television.

As a parent and an aunt I was disappointed in the adaptation. This has either the aroma of someone who says, “I don’t watch television” or it’s just lazy writing. I include in the lazy category the sets and the Oompa Loompas. They were portrayed by finger puppets on a stick and then hinge jawed Muppet look-alikes (fyi: the hinge-jawed things were the most inspired part of this show.)

I have seen better at Emerald City with the productions of Pinkalicious (our review ★★★½) and Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus! (review ★★½). These shows used the well-known tagline ‘Discover a World of Pure Imagination’, but the creative team didn’t really put much of that slogan into this show.

I suspect that children are smarter and more imaginative than this. Generations have survived fairy tales from Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson without lingering damage. This antiseptic approach to a similarly dark fantasy is doing a disservice to the tot set. I graduated from the illustration heavy tot books when my mom took me to see “Peter Pan” some 47 years ago. An imaginative production at a children’s theater made me want to read more or have it read to me and, yes, it tweaked my imagination.

  
  
Rating: ★★
  
  

Charlie's father, Willie Wonka and Charlie in 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' at Emerald City Theatre Chicago.

Charlie and The Chocolate Factory runs about one hour without intermission. The show run is through August 15th of 2011. Go to www.emeraldcitytheatre.com for times and dates. With the long run, EC might make some improvements (or at least build some more Oompa Loompas). In the meantime, I suggest reading the Roald Dahl book (even abridged and illustration heavy!) to your children first and then ask what they have to say.

  
  

Review: Jackie and Me (Chicago Children’s Theatre)

     
     

Jackie Robinson honored with fun and dynamic storytelling

 

  
     

Pictured (far left) Kamal Angelo Bolden as Jackie Robinson, (seated, with baby) Tracey Bonner as Rachel Robinson, and (far right) Tyler Ross as Joey Stoshack. Photo credit:  Michael Brosilow

  
Chicago Children’s Theatre presents
  
Jackie and Me
      
Written by Steven Dietz
Based on book by Dan Gutman
Directed by Derrick Sanders
at  Ruth Page Center for the Arts
1016 N. Dearborn Avenue (map)
through March 27  | 
tickets: $25-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Chicago Children’s Theatre has a triumph on their hands. Their world premiere production of Jackie and Me has nothing less than heart—miles and miles of heart. Based on the children’s book by Dan Gutman, frankness and joyful simplicity dominate Steven Dietz’s script. Derrick Sanders’ fresh and focused direction energizes the story of Jackie Robinson, the black athlete who broke the color barrier in baseball. Jackie and Me doesn’t just relate Robinson’s story accessibly to young Pictured, from left:  Tyler Ross as Joey Stoshack, Kamal Angelo Bolden as Jackie Robinson. Photo credit:  Michael Brosilowaudiences, but also makes it lively, passionate and dynamic. The play teaches young people the degrading and often dangerous racism Robinson had to overcome just to play in the white major leagues. But equally threaded throughout the story is an unquenchable enthusiasm for baseball, its history and power to connect generations.

Young Joey Stoshack (Tyler Ross) has an undying love for baseball. Joey also has a peculiar gift—by simply holding an old baseball card in his hand he can travel back in time to meet the baseball player pictured on the card. When his teacher gives his class the assignment of writing biographical reports of great African Americans, Joey is relieved to learn that Jackie Robinson is on the list. An old friend Flip (Sean Cooper) lends him a Bond Bread card with Jackie Robinson’s picture on it and he travels back to learn history as it happened.

The characters of Jackie and Me are drawn bold and big—and they don’t get much bigger or bolder than Branch Rickey (Charles Stransky) signing Jackie Robinson (Kamal Angelo Bolden) to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. Sanders’ direction allows his cast to project their characters with directness and clarity while exuberantly moving the story forward–and the production goes beyond idealizing the larger-than-life characters of Rickey and Robinson, simply and potently enshrined by Stransky and Bolden. Just when one thinks the time travel bit won’t convince, it convinces. Just when one thinks the story’s unabashed optimism might come off too hokey or old-fashioned, it convinces. Sanders and his excellent cast bring across the nobility and hopefulness of Robinson’s achievement with masterful assurance.

     
Pictured (from left)  Kamal Angelo Bolden as Jackie Robinson, Sean Cooper as Jackie’s Dodger teammate Pee Wee Rees, and Patrick De Nicola as Phildelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman. Photo credit:  Michael Brosilow Pictured, from left:  Tyler Ross as Joey Stoshack, Charles Stransky as Branch Rickey, president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers,  who signed the first African-American to play major league baseball, Jackie Robinson, played by Kamal Angelo Bolden. Photo credit:  Michael Brosilow

Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun. Ross’s open and straightforward emotion allows audiences, both young and old, to connect with Joey’s journey. Patrick de Nicola provides infinite comic relief in a number of other roles in which he plays Joey’s rival. As Joey’s Mom and Dad, Vanessa Greenway and Ron Rains make warm, human and realistic parents. Chicago Children’s Theatre goes to the very heart of storytelling and reveals the diamonds that are there. Jackie and Me has the stuff to uplift and rejuvenate audiences of all ages and remind them of the glory of baseball at the center of the American Dream.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
      
  

Performances of Jackie and Me continue through March 27, 2011 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 North Dearborn. Tickets are $25 for children (ages 17 and under) and $35 for adults, available through CCT’s website, chicagochildrenstheatre.org, or the ticket hotline, (866) 811-4111.

Jackie and Me is recommended for children ages 8 and older as it deals with historical racism in an honest manner.

(from left) Sean Cooper as Flip, owner of the baseball card shop frequented by time traveler Joey Shostack, played by Tyler Ross. Photo credit: Michael Brosilow

Pictured, from left:  Tyler Ross as Joey Stoshack, Kamal Angelo Bolden as Jackie Robinson Jackie Robinson - Jackie and Me - Chicago Children's Theatre

Photos by Michael Brosilow 

Artists

Cast: Kamal Angelo Bolden as Jackie Robinson, Tyler Ross as Joey Stoshack, with Tracey N. Bonner (Rachel), Patrick De Nicola (Ant), Ron Rains (Dad), Vanessa Greenway (Mom), Sean Cooper (Flip) and Charles Stransky (Branch Rickey).

Production: Steven Dietz (playwright), Derrick Sanders (director), Ian Zywica (set), Seth Reinick (lights), Christine Pascual (costumes), Michael Griggs (sound) and Kimberly Morris (props), Michael Brosilow (photography).