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: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (Emerald City)

  
  

Having fun while learning the importance of responsibility

  
  

From left to right: Daiva Bhandari as Duckling, Bret Beaudry as Bus Driver, and James Zoccoli as Pigeon.

  
Emerald City Theatre presents
   
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
  
From the books by Mo Willems
Adapted by
Ernie Nolan 
Directed by
Jacqueline Stone
at
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
thru April 10  |  tickets: $13-$16   |  more info

To be clear, I am way past the age of three and above which is the recommended age for Emerald City Theatre’s Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!. However, there are always lessons to be learned about sharing, responsibility, and respect no matter one’s age. Ernie Nolan adapts this production from the popular ‘Pigeon’ books by Mo Willems. They include: “The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog”, “Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late”, “Pigeon Wants a Puppy”, as well as “Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!”

It is a colorful and stimulating hour or so of entertainment for children. The set is a beautiful rendering of a city park that looks just like a children’s book. The music consists of fun lyrics set to familiar tunes like the “Can-Can” and Bizet’s Carmen.

"Can I PLEASE drive the Bus?" From left to right: Daiva Bhandari as Duckling, James Zoccoli as Pigeon, and Bret Beaudry as Bus Driver.Bret Beaudry plays the role of Bus Driver. His character is the moral consciousness and adult figure in the play. Beaudry lights up in this role. He is adept at playing for laughs and not condescending to the kids. Beaudry has a wonderful energy, especially in the game show segment when he dons a sparkly jacket and obnoxious bow tie.

Bus Driver is a well-drawn caricature and plays well off of the character of Duckling, played by Daiva Bhandari. Duckling is anthropomorphized as a human/animal hybrid but quite believable. Ms. Bhandari is delightful in a hyper-real yellow bob and tutu. Her character represents the good kid and great example.

It’s fun and educational to see Duckling win the game show by being prepared and responsible. The lesson was given without the hammer fist of good kid vs. bad kid.

James Anthony Zoccoli plays the role of Pigeon, and his character is the classic kid with ADHD. Pigeon is all over the place, wanting his way and pouting about never getting his way (insert wah-wah music here). Zoccoli is costumed in everyday baggy khakis, hoodie, and a baseball cap. I’m not sure why Pigeon wasn’t more outrageously attired or given more colorful accessories. Might it be that the costumer was making a statement about how common pigeons are in an urban setting-therefore the hip-hop attire?  It felt like Pigeon didn’t have some class privileges and was excluded. Whatever the reason, I found Pigeon more difficult to relate to from my inner child’s vision. Mr. Zoccoli is funny and good at relating the need for better behavior to kids but didn’t embody the same childlike zany energy coming from him. It was as if an adult had been dropped into the scene that had carte blanche to act like a kid.

Jacqueline Stone is the director for Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus!. She does a good job of matching the pace with a child’s attention span. The different vignettes are reminiscent of a day in Pee-Wee Herman’s Playhouse: the scene of the giant puppy is a funny lesson in being careful what you ask for, as surely you will get it; the hot dog story was a great lesson in sharing. A general motif is created whereby the pigeon is basically manipulated or tricked into doing the right thing. I would have liked to see Pigeon happy about a lesson learned versus being miffed.

James Zoccoli as Pigeon is not so sure he wants a puppy anymore.

In paying attention to the kid’s reactions in the audience, it’s obvious that kids are very observant; it’s not easy to put something over on them. Kids will call you out on obvious stuff like it’s Duckling under the giant puppy head. It’s odd – kids will suspend reality for a human duck hybrid, but then spot the barely-visible bright yellow costume in a dual role as puppy.

Keep in mind that some children will be afraid having story books come to life. One little girl behind me was freaked out for most of the first half hour. She was crying to get out of there and I understood. I was the kid who had nightmares about Garfield Goose taking me away in a shopping cart. You never really know what is in a child’s mind.

Emerald City always has fun activities and props for the kids. Duckling was on hand before the show to put ketchup, mustard, relish, and onions (sticker dots) on paper hot dogs. The characters are available for pictures and autographs after the show as well. I recommend this show for kids 3 and up who have read the “Pigeon” series. It’s a fun and smart way to introduce theater to very young children. (It was also a great way to resolve my Garfield Goose issues!)

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
   

Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus! runs through April 10th, 2011 at the Apollo Theater located at 2540 N. Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. Go to emeraldcitytheatre.com for more information on Emerald City and the wonderful programs for early childhood education through theatre. The playbill has some fun stuff in it for parents and children to share as well.

From left to right: Bret Beaudry as Bus Driver, James Zoccoli as Pigeon, and Daiva Bhandari as Duckling.

Extra Credit

  
  

Emerald City Theatre announces 2010-11 season

Emerald City 15th Anniversary Logo

Emerald City marks 15th Anniversary

with exciting new season

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

 

Emerald City Theatre Artistic and Executive Director Karen Cardarelli has announced the company’s 2010-2011 season lineup of family theater, which marks the organization’s 15th anniversary season and includes two beloved classic productions and two Chicago premieres.

The season commences with the Midwest premiere of Pinkalicious, direct from a sold out run Off Broadway

Emerald City celebrates the holiday season with a new take on an old favorite-a rocked out version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.

2011 begins with a bang as Emerald City Theatre presents the world premiere of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, based on the Caldecott Award-winning books by Mo Willems. This brand new adaptation by Associate Artistic Director Ernie Nolan marks the company’s 28th world premiere production and continues the work of The PlayGround, formed in 2008 and dedicated to the development of world-class scripts for early learners.  Since its inception, Emerald City original scripts have been produced at 17 theatre companies nationwide. Most recently, Co-Founder and Artistic Associate Alyn Cardarelli‘s hit How I Became a Pirate was produced at Imagination Stage in Washington D.C, Dallas Children’s Theatre, and Stages Theatre in Minneapolis.

The 2011 Season ends on a delicious note with Roald Dahl’s beloved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Ernie Nolan. 


 

September 18 – December 31, 2010

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Pinkalicious

Book: Elizabeth Kann & Victoria Kann
Music/Lyrics: John Gregor
Lyrics: Elizabeth Kann & Victoria Kann

Based on the book "Pinkalicious" by Victoria & Elizabeth Kann
Directed by Ernie Nolan

The season commences with the Midwest premiere of Pinkalicious, direct from a sold out run Off Broadway.

When Pinkalicious Pinkerton eats one too many pink cupcakes, she catches a serious case of Pinkititis and turns pink from head to toe!  To cure her condition, Pinkalicious’ organic-eating parents and broccoli-loving little brother must teach her the importance of a balanced diet. A Midwest premier, directed by Associate Artistic Director Ernie Nolan, this heartwarming musical’s Gateway Theme of healthy eating is sure to strike a chord among parents and picky eaters alike. Families are invited to hear the original story, make pink crafts and enjoy pink treats at Pinkalicious’ Cupcake Tea Parties, special events beginning in late September.     Recommended for ages 3+.


November 18, 2010 – January 2, 2011

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryThe Wizard of Oz

 

By L. Frank Baum
Music/Lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Adapted for the Royal Shakespeare Company by by John Kane
Directed/Choreographed by Ernie Nolan.

When Dorothy Gale and her beloved dog Toto are swept away to a land somewhere over the rainbow, they discover the true meaning of home. In this rocked out version of the classic story, you’ll hear favorites like "If I Only Had a Brain" and "Follow the Yellow Brick Road." Bring your munchkins to Oz this holiday season for one of the most memorable stories ever created Recommended for ages 3+

 


 

January 15, 2011 – April 10, 2011

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

World Premiere!

From the Books by Mo Willems
Adapted by Ernie Nolan
Directed by Jacqueline Stone

Based on Mo Willems’ Caldecott-winning favorite, this highly interactive play puts the audience in the driver’s seat as everybody’s favorite pigeon asks to drive the bus, eat a hot dog, have a puppy, and stay up late.  It’s up to you to decide what he can do.  You’ve never met a pigeon like this before!  Recommended for ages 3+

 

 


 

February 12, 2011 – May 8, 2011

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

By Richard R. George
From the fantasy by Roald Dahl
Directed by Ernie Nolan

Mysterious Willy Wonka is opening the gates to his coveted and curious chocolate factory- and only five children will be let inside! When good-hearted dreamer Charlie Bucket unwraps his lucky golden ticket, he and his grandfather are whisked away into a world of pure imagination. A tasty treat for the entire family!  Recommended for ages 3+

 

 

 


About the PlayGround

The PlayGround is Emerald City’s formal new works process, created in 2008 and lead by Associate Artistic Director Ernie Nolan. The PlayGround manages the selection of concepts for adaptation, organizes the internal creative input and produces table and staged readings. Additionally, it researches the needs of young audiences and how those needs can be supported through theater.

"Emerald City Theatre has become one of Chicago’s largest Gateways to the Arts for young children," says Associate Artistic Director Ernie Nolan. "Understanding the difference between how a 4-year old learns from a play and how a 10-year old learns takes a lot of time and research. The PlayGround frames the work we have been doing to combine the understanding of our audience with the work our artists are creating."

       
         

Emerald City 15th Anniversary Logo

         
         

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