Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre to a wonderfully scrumptious standing ovation by a warm and joyous Brisbane audience. The timeless Roald Dahl comedy was presented in a brand new spectacular musical adventure that makes you feel like you are a kid again. The cast and crew unwrapped the shiny golden wrapper of this new musical with joy, dark comedic timing, stunning choreography, and a love for chocolate. Brisbane audiences showed their admiration through their welcoming applause and laughter and can appreciate the tough road it took to at long last perform on opening night. The company were due to open in mid-March 2020 when the pandemic struck and they have been through a cancelled season, lockdowns, a revived season and hotel quarantine to realise the gravity of how big of a night this was.
In case you aren’t familiar – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is based on Roald Dahl’s best-selling fictional children’s book of the same name. It follows a boy named Charlie Bucket and his desire to invent and create, he loves Wonka chocolate more than any other and wishes he could have a better chance for his poor family. It follows his adventure of a lifetime as he wins a ‘golden ticket’ to join four other lucky children to embark on an exclusive and thrilling tour of the infamous chocolate inventor’s factory after decades of closure and the craziness ensues.
The famed quirky chocolate factory owner and one of the most well-known fictional characters, Willy Wonka was embodied by Stephen Anderson to perfection. You know when an actor is born to play a character when you forget they are a performer pretending to be someone else. Stephen had the quirky physicality, the voice, mannerisms you would expect this odd character possesses. It felt like he could jump from the stage to the screen and capture the essence of Wonka through any medium. As soon as we met him as ‘The Candy Man’ we instantly felt the allure that he is hiding something and the audience are let in on his secret, but young Charlie doesn’t suspect a thing…yet.
Outside the chocolate factory Stephen as Wonka opened the doors to the factory for the golden tickets winners and he was in a hooded black cloak like a creepy evil witch and then bent down and magically popped up as the famed chocolate maker Willy Wonka. The mystery and the goal behind this moment was to expect the unexpected with Mr. Wonka. Stephen brilliantly discovered the joy and pride that Wonka has for his creations. He didn’t give a flying ‘oompa loompa’ what became of each ticket winner when they didn’t do what they were told. Especially when most of his inventions were in their very early prototype stages but the kids couldn’t resist, and Wonka subtly taught them a lesson for each personality trait failure. Stephen is a magnificent actor, a glorious singer particularly in ‘Pure Imagination’ when he introduced the gang to the chocolate room for the first time and ‘The Candy Man’ where the chemistry between him and Charlie (Flynn Nowlan) was fatherly and so genuine to watch. In addition to the heartfelt number ‘The view from here’ when they are in the flying elevator and Wonka gives Charlie the factory.
‘Pure Imagination’ describes Flynn Nowlan’s spectacle of a performance, he played young scrappy Charlie Bucket on Opening Night. In addition to Flynn, the other talented boys that share the title role of Charlie in the Brisbane season are – Phineaus Knickerbocker, Cooper Matthews and Edgar Stirling. Flynn had a natural ability to capture the audience in the palm of his hand with his sweet Australian accent to his lovable energy and lust for the stage particularly in the scenes with his mother, Grandpa Joe and Wonka himself.
The moments with Charlie and Grandpa Joe played by shining star Robert Grubb were super special mainly when Charlie came home and discovered he had scored a golden ticket. The musical number ‘I’ve got a golden ticket’ was a joyous scene when his Mother danced with him and essentially revived Grandpa Joe back to life after being in his bed for the last 20 years with his wife and Charlie’s other grandparents. Robert was comedic, a realist but most importantly wanted to find his inner child. He was so present before a live audience with his onstage grandson it was gorgeous to witness. The way Robert portrayed Joe as he stood up for Charlie throughout the factory tour and at the end when he gave Wonka a piece of his mind about the prize, put into perspective the vulnerability he embedded into his character.
Charlie would be nowhere without his beautiful mother by his side. Lucy Maunder made the role of Mrs. Bucket her own in this production. She poured the flavour of her sweet Australian accent into this character coupled with her extraordinary singing voice. Her portrayal of young Charlie’s dear mother was exceptional and heartbreaking at times to watch as she tried to provide enough money for food on the table let alone a chocolate bar for her son. Lucy illustrated her instant love and honesty as a hardworking single Mum in a gorgeous and subtle manner particularly through the song ‘If Your Father Were Here.’
Charlie’s other lovable Grandparents George, Georgina and Josephine played by James Haxby, Ana Mitsikas and Katie McKee respectively were a bundle of comedy and joy to help guide Charlie into the direction of fun and in George’s case truth bombs. The oldies stuck in bed for 20 years had fabulous one-liners that made the audience giggle with delight and relished in Charlie’s success when he had finally won the golden ticket and was raving about ‘Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka.’
The Golden Tickets winners one by one found the VIP factory passes and the audience was slowly introduced to all of them. The Bavarian food lover Augustus Gloop was portrayed by Jaxon Graham Wilson and gave us a brilliant German song, ‘More of him to love’ with the fun thick accent, joined by his mother Mrs. Gloop scrumptiously played by Octavia Barron Martin. The pair were an absolute delight, and you couldn’t take your eyes off the duo with their hilarious antics and unorthodox chest bumps.
Jaxon had a quirky personality with food constantly in hand, bounced off Octavia who wanted the best for her large and in-charge son. When he started drinking from the Chocolate fountain and fell in, it all went downhill from there. He was knee deep in a cocoa-filled nightmare and was incredibly funny when the Oompa Loompas arrived on scene and on their knees to try and vacuum him out as they revealed that Augustus had blocked the chocolate tube when they sung ‘Auf Wiedersehen Augustus Gloop.’ The look on Octavia’s face was priceless as she had to go fetch her son from a Fudging room and worried about picking his bones out of fudge.
The next golden ticket winner was Violet Beauegard played by the bubbly Tarisai Vushe. Violet was a California girl with a gum chewing obsession that made her a social media influencer supported by her father Mr. Beauregard portrayed by the suave Madison McKoy. Tarisai was perfect as Violet and portrayed the sassy juicy tracksuit wearing Daddy’s girl to a tee. The musical number she belted out with an incredible set of pipes, ‘Queen of Pop’ was iconic and showed how much of a competitor she was.
The father/daughter pair bounced off each other perfectly and you can see Tarisai’s talent oozing out when her character Violet grabs the prototype three course meal gum that Wonka was working on and not ready for chewing. Madison was hilarious as Violet’s cheerleader and horrified when she turns into a big blueberry and bursts as her Dad picks up deflated purple tracksuit ‘pieces’ in a confused state as he is assured his daughter will be ok. The audience was in shock but also couldn’t help but laugh at the crazy purple mess.
The spoiled Russian ballerina Veruca Salt was the next lucky winner to find the shiny nugget to Wonka’s factory. During the Musical number ‘When Veruca Says’ Karina Russell delivered the Russian accent aggressively as she danced on pointe around her father Mr. Salt played by Simon Russell. The fabulously bratty and entertaining Karina slayed this role as she pressed her father under her thumb to give her everything she demanded including of course a squirrel from Wonka’s nut room. Wonka told them about the crazy squirrels however she went in and tried to fetch one for herself. The ensemble members played the giant mutant squirrels and performed a thrilling Nutcracker ballet of sorts that was mesmerising to watch. Karina is a talented ballerina as she didn’t miss a beat with gorgeous lines and the incredible Veruca persona that went hand in hand with the green-eyed squirrels.
Simon nailed the Russian mafia-esque stance and voice that made it believable that Veruca was his offspring. He is a versatile performer that showed through his character Mr. Salt that he really cared for his daughter but was sucked in and pandered to her every desire as he failed to tell her ‘no’. The most hilarious Roald Dahl darkness shined through when the Squirrels deemed Veruca a ‘bad nut’ and tore the stuck-up princess to pieces and you see her ‘head’ pop off with a fake dolls head to illustrate bad nuts are punished or beheaded it would seem.
The last ticket winner Mike Teavee embodied by Taylor Scanlan was obsessed with screens and gaming. Taylor tenaciously tapped into the psyche of a typical teenage kid and had attitude paired with a know-it-all mentality. He punkishly performed the song ‘What could possibly go wrong.’ Mike’s mother Mrs. Teavee was played by the comedic Johanna Allen and found her character in a hilarious almost half intoxicated state as she attempted to grab her son’s attention and pull him away from the screen.
Johanna was the light-hearted fun parent of the group dressed in 50s housewife garb and seemed to be more relaxed in comparison, due to be hilariously tipsy. Taylor pulled off Mike’s rebel phase as he ignored Wonka’s warnings and used the Wonka Vision TV set to teleport himself into his favourite electronic device as he sings ‘Vidiots.’ Johanna as Mrs. Teavee majorly freaks out in the song ‘The little man of mine’ and through brilliant technology his mother takes her ken-doll sized son out of the television with his little arms still moving and a faint cry for help as she pops him in her bag. A gasp is heard by the audience as they have no idea what they have just experienced and have to suspend disbelief to be amazed at how Mike shrunk.
The choreography in this production was stunning and created by Joshua Bergasse with Associate Choreographer Alison Solomon leading the way. The ensemble shared their gorgeous dance and movement in spectacular unison, this was most evident in the opening number ‘The Candy Man’ in addition to the Act 1 closing colourful song ‘It must be believed to be seen’.
A notable role was the cheeky Euan Doidge as Mrs. Green who embraced the full breadth of character it takes to be saucy and sassy as a green grocer with a trolley. She had lettuce as hair and it was an iconic portion of the show. Of course we can’t forget about the magic of the Oompa Loompas. The ensemble relished in the quirkiness and kooky nature they hold. Particularly with the bright orange curly hair and subtle illusion of them being so small, the performers have to be on their hands and knees. The audience couldn’t get enough of the joyous ensemble especially when they sang the Oompa Loompa song and embraced the black comedy as they destroy four of five golden ticket winners.
If you are into colourful, joyous, dark comedy based on your favourite Roald Dahl novel, coupled with charm, incomparable performers, memorable music from the original film in addition to catchy new songs, this musical is for you. The themes of imagination, greed and dreaming big are present and teach children and kids at heart how to listen and be grateful for what you have. Go buy that Wonka bar and the Golden ticket to the show of the year is yours!
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Musical
Playing now until 3 October, 2021
Lyric Theatre, QPAC