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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Broadway — Avoid at all costs (Review of preview) March 31, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, musical theater, Musicals.

It is so rare I need to write something like this, but this is more an expose than it is a review. Seen in a preview this week, the show should just shutter right now and rethink everything before proceeding. As is, this is a show to be avoided at all costs, unless you are interested in a flop of Carrie proportions, in which case use TKTS, TDF, or whatever other cheap method you can come across to grab a ticket and watch this musical self-implode.

While I recognize that this was a preview, there is absolutely nothing they can currently do to save this show short of a complete rethink. In short, what’s wrong?

1)The run time is currently 2:50 – that’s like Les Mis and this is no Les Mis. Both acts are too long, and Act I is almost interminable.

2) I’m not sure who decided it was a good idea to cut the kids in the show and recast them with adult actors. It’s a terrible idea. (Note: This show originated on the West End in London where kids played all the correct parts). Only Charlie (a very solid Ryan Sell at my performance) was the sole exception. He’s one of three alternating Charlie’s. I’m not sure why there are three — it’s not that demanding a part.

3) The set design: Oh My Fucking God. You go into the show expecting some degree of spectacle, otherwise why do this show? So the best thing to do is show you some photos. Since I couldn’t take any in the theater, of course, of the current production, I have drawn some of them and these are completely accurate and not exaggerated. The decision to go with a minimalistic approach is terrible. Every one of the Broadway sets should be scrapped and rethought. Heck, pay any amount you can and bring over the West End tour sets. Anything is better than what you get here for 148.00 a seat.  So lets proceed with two examples:

Here’s the London “Gate” set (note the children in the cast)


Here’s the Broadway “Gate” set (note the, well, nothingness of it all)

And Here’s the “Big Reveal” In Act II

And Here it is on Broadway. I kid you not. Almost the entire second Act, with the exception with small rolling wagons that carry on Oompa Loompas (cute) and some small set pieces, is played in an empty room. Nothing is even projected on the walls other than a few fireworks or lighting designs here and there.

Yeah — that pretty much tells you all you need to know right there. The Glass Elevator sequence is pretty. For three minutes.

4) Apparently audiences in London complained that they had cut all of the songs from the original movie and left only the (not all that good) Marc Shaiman tunes with the exception of  Pure Imagination sung in the glass elevator. Here They are ALL BACK and all they do is add 20 minutes to the already too-long show. Oh the audience clapped and some sang along to “Candy Man”; “Ive got a Golden Ticket”; “Pure Imagination”; “The Oompa Loompa song”.  Either you trust your material, or you do not, and here, they clearly do not.

5) For a show designed for children, the children’s sequences are far too violent. Veruca gets quartered by ballet-dancing Squirrels (yeah, I’m not even going to go there except to say the performers are really good). Violet almost rolled off the edge of the stage at my performance, were it not for her very alert father. Mike TV is portrayed as an obnoxious millennial teenager with an iPhone. Well, at least they got that character right.

6) Which kind of brings up the question of time and location. WHERE is this taking place? There are no British accents being used, so where are they? Pennsylvania? And WHEN is it? Is it the 50’s? The 70’s? Modern Day? I guess it doesn’t matter since you don’t know where you are anyway.

Ive never heard louder banging and clanging from backstage than during my performance. Sure its a preview and the intermission was 25 minutes long. But you kind of expect that — but not the banging and clanging going on backstage installing those ridiculous walls and the ceiling unit.

Joshua Bergasse has designed great choreography, so that’s a plus. Jack O’Brien has done what he can as director. I would have walked away. Sound is generally good and the orchestra sounds great. Japhy Weideman’s lighting design is as sparse as Mark Thompson’s horrendous set design, although his costume design is quite good.

I’m just going to say that I don’t think there is anything that can derail and fix this train barreling along to a deadly opening night. Get ready for the critic reviews for this one. The press is going to kill this show.  I would shut this down for four weeks and do anything possible to bring in the West End sets, recast the adults with kids, and fix what is already a pretty weak show even with these additional flaws.

Not at all recommended, in fact its my first review in 7 years to include the phrase AVOID.

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