Willy Wonka musical provides high-energy, hi-tech eye candy
To best get the impact of what they’re telling me, joke-tellers occasionally insist that I pause patiently and “wait for it” — the kicker, that is.
The same might be said of “Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The New Musical.”
Although the exposition-heavy Act I is a tad short on excitement, the second act more than compensates with multi-colored, high-energy, hi-tech wonderments and stagecraft that pleased three generations of my family opening night at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco — my granddaughter, her fiftysomething mom and me.
Its best feature, the older two of us concurred, is a hilarious chorus-line of 16 Oompa-Loompas, modern-day Munchkin-height puppets whose heads are those of the handlers — although the midlifer equally loved the technical wizardry displayed when one of the five winners of Golden Tickets that allow admission to the Chocolate Factory is embedded in a television set and shrinks to doll size.
The 12-year-old, who herself is sharpening both hand-sketched and digital art skills, chose other moments, the song “Pure Imagination” and “the scene in the drawing room where you could do whatever you wanted.”
I also had to also commend the star, Noah Weisberg, who portrays chocolatier Wonka (inventor of the mega-scrumptious Everlasting Gobstopper) with physical comic chops that are captivating for theatergoers of all ages.
I admired, too, the theatrical illusions — like the quartet being portrayed by adults, and the role of female street-vendor Mrs. Green being played by male Clyde Voce — that work seamlessly.
We three agreed, moreover, that the two-hour family show (which had opened on Broadway in 2017) was delightful overall, especially the projected kaleidoscopic pyrotechnics in the frameworks that surround a somewhat truncated stage, despite this version containing a bit of goosebump-producing, macabre material.
My granddaughter may have summed up the entire production perfectly while referring afterwards to a sequence in which a ballerina toe-dances with life-sized squirrels and then is dismembered.
“That was the funniest and creepiest scene I’ve ever seen,” she said.
Still, the audience as a whole, filled with more kids than I’ve ever witnessed at a SNH touring Broadway show (outnumbering even those at “Annie”), underscored our trio of positive reactions with shouts of joy and thunderous applause (particularly for the upbeat tunes).
Virtually everyone, it seemed, adored the show’s costumes and set, awash in primary colors, and its inventiveness (a paper airplane that scoots back and forth across the stage, and a rising glass elevator, for instance).
And they applauded the show’s message — that Charlie wins because he’s “good and honest and kind.”
The musical, of course, is based on the classic 1971 film starring Gene Wilder as Wonka, and stems from an original dark tale by Dahl, who besides being a children’s story writer (“Matilda,” “The BFG,” “James and the Giant Peach”) reportedly was a spy, ace fighter-pilot and medical inventor.
His stories, by the way, are now available in 58 languages, and his books have sold 250 million copies.
The songwriters of “Hairspray” (Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman) have supplied a new score that adds to — but doesn’t challenge the hummability of — “The Candy Man” from the original.
In all, “Charlie…” spotlights 20 musical segments and a 12-piece live orchestra — as well as a cast that numbers almost three dozen performers.
And director Jack O’Brien, a three-time Tony Award-winner, makes sure the ensemble focuses on shoring up the four cartoonish loser kids that impoverished Charlie (played by Henry Boshart, who alternates with two other boys) beats out to become the grand prize winner: obese Augustus Gloop (Matt Wood), gum-chewing teenager rocker, Violet Beauregarde (Bryann Williams, who has the best voice in the show), brattish Russian dancer Veruca Salt (San Francisco-born, Marin County-reared Jessica Cohen) and TV addict and juvenile delinquent Mike Teavee (Daniel Quadrino).
To some degree the show is like a candy bar, a lot of empty carbs that made me feel good via an immediate sugar high without much lingering bang. While watching it, though, my inner child pretended to be an outer playmate so I often smiled and laughed.
Magical eye candy.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”plays at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco, through May 12. Night performances, 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets: $56 to $256 (subject to change). Information: 888-746-1799 or http://shnsf.com.