Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Theatre Review

The wonderful wacky world of Willy Wonka has wondered its way into Melbourne’s Her Majesty’s Theatre with Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Featuring the timeless classic “Pure Imagination”, plus new and original songs, this is a production that must be seen to be believed!

Roald Dahl’s timeless classic has had various incarnations. The most popular would be the original 1971 film that to this day still stands the test of time with many scenes being referred to and relevant to modern pop-culture. The 1971 movie starring the late Gene Wilder has long been a personal favourite of mine from my childhood, so I approached the musical with scepticism. And boy, was I wrong!

Paul Slade Smith, after originally starring in the Broadway production as Grandpa George, hits the Australian stage as the most amazing chocolatier in the world, Willy Wonka. Smith seems completely at home in his role as Wonka. He perfectly amplifies the eccentric personality and quick wit of Willy Wonka and is certainly not afraid to run away with the character. Paul Slade Smith‘s performance of Willy Wonka had me laughing, crying and feeling nostalgic. A performance I believe that the late Gene Wilder would be proud of.

The leading role of Charlie Bucket is performed by five young and extremely talented Australian boys. I was lucky enough to see Edgar Sterling in his professional debut. Sterling is absolutely wonderful as Charlie Bucket, the little boy with the big dreams and an even bigger imagination. His playful approach to the role had me smiling from ear to ear, his stage presence and vocals being absolutely outstanding. It is hard to believe that this kid is only ten years old. Edgar Sterling is most certainly a young talent that will be a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry for years to come.

Australian Theatre Royalty, Tony Sheldon stars as the ninety-and-a-half-year-old Grandpa Joe. Sheldon took out the 2019 Helpmann Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for this role and it is easy to see why, perfectly capturing the innocence and optimism of Charlie‘s grown-up confidant and grandfather. And while I only got to witness one of the five young stars as Charlie, Sheldon is the perfect fit to play alongside Edgar Sterling’s Charlie Bucket, showing such believable chemistry together on-stage.

The story wouldn’t be complete without the remaining Golden Ticket winners. And while there were a few, it was Jake Fehily and Octavia Barron Martin that outshone the rest with their hilarious portrayals of Augustus Gloop and Mrs Gloop. I had never been so excited to see Augustus succumb to chocolate until this show.

As previously mentioned, I entered this show with scepticism. During the first act I was concerned my worst fears were coming true. The first act was slow and seemed unnecessarily long. Even though the musical performances were great, I felt the book needed work. Cut to the second act and boy, does it step it up a notch! I have always loved the scene in the 1971 classic where they all enter the factory for the first time and are greeted with the wonderfully delicious display of the candy forest. In this musical, the set design and use of wall to wall screens perfectly re-imagined this spectacular scene and had me feeling the exact same way I did as a kid, extremely happy. The second act is fast paced and flows more naturally than the first act. Each scene where another child meets their unfortunate demise was captured perfectly. The second act is also where Paul Slade Smith really shines and lets loose as Willy Wonka.

What about the Oompa Loompas, you say? The moment they graced the stage with their presence, I was in absolute stitches and laughed so hard until it hurt. Let’s just say that the Oompa Loopas are a highlight of the show. But they are something I can’t really describe to you and is something you must see for yourself.

Watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reminded me of how much I had loved this classic tale as a kid, and I’m so grateful that I got to witness this clever musical live on-stage in Melbourne. I was also reminded that although the story is about happiness and dreams, it contains some extremely dark undertones with child after child being knocked out of contention, with everyone at the mercy of a crazed candy man. Despite the story being quite dark, the show is appropriate for all ages. Yes, there are many puns and references that only parents will understand, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is nevertheless a colourful and entertaining ride for all ages. Even though the story is mostly silly and wacky, the final song “The View From Here” with both Wonka and Charlie sharing a special moment together is actually serious, visually beautiful and so moving, it will pull on your heart strings.

Whether you are after a wonderfully nostalgic trip down memory lane or experiencing the story for the very first time, visiting Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is definitely worth the trip. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the now playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre until December 2019. I highly recommend that you grab yourself a Golden Ticket from the box office and hurry along to see this clever production before it runs off to Brisbane. I most certainly would love to see it again!

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Photography by Brian Geach.

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