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.

  
  

2 Responses

  1. The puppets looked familiar my kid said “didn’t we see those in the last show!”. We did, same muppets used in wizard of oz that emerald city just did, talk about lazzzzzy

  2. My kids had fun lighten up

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: