Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s ‘Willy Wonka’ Sure to Satisfy Your Child’s Sweet Spot

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HollywoodChicago.com Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

CHICAGO – Ah, it’s summer again. Kids in Chicago are playing in the Millennium Park fountains, teenagers are flooding in to see the latest cinema blockbusters and families are enjoying Lake Michigan’s beaches.

But perhaps an even more important staple of this sunny season is the decision by Chicago theatre producers that it’s the prime time for stage productions to cater to those of us under the age of 12.

Lucky for the youngsters, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater has mounted a delectable stage adaptation of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” called “Willy Wonka”. It’s a musical that’s sure to entice and satiate even the bitterest of audiences. Fans of both Roald Dahl’s original children’s novel and the classic film will revel in this piece.

Only at the end of the play Willy Wonka is Willy Wonka's (Sean Fortunato) purpose revealed. He not only rewards the good and deserving but finds fulfillment of his own urgent search
Only at the end of the play “Willy Wonka” is Willy Wonka’s (Sean Fortunato) purpose revealed. He not only rewards the good and deserving but finds fulfillment of his own search.
Photo credit: Liz Lauren

True to both Dahl’s tale and the movie score from Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Neweley, the production by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is a goodie bag replete with fun costumes, playful Oompa-Loompa puppets, brightly colored set pieces and a small yet mostly stellar cast.

Though Dahl is one of the most celebrated children’s writers of all time, he’s most known for his willingness to incorporate solemn and dark themes into the most playful of his novels.

“Willy Wonka” director Joe Leonardo in Chicago demonstrably understands and reveres this. The production gleefully succeeds at taking its audience on a fantastic, chocolate-filled voyage while also paying credence to the more gloomy realities of each character’s plight.

The musical follows the familiar story of the Bucket family. They’re a down-on-their-luck clan residing in the slums of London.

Due to Mr. Bucket’s precarious job position at a toothpaste factory, the family is constantly on the verge of absolute poverty and destitution. The living conditions Leonardo has created clearly reflect their financial situation.

Living under the same patched roof (and in the same bed) are Charlie’s grandparents (represented by Meredith Miller’s ghoulish puppets), parents and young Charlie himself. Remaining steadfast to his message of hope, Charlie eventually scores one of the famous golden tickets from candy mogul Willy Wonka.

In Willy Wonka in Chicago, the children's journey is strewn with temptations. Augustus Gloop’s (George Andrew Wolff) gluttony – encouraged by his mother Mrs. Gloop (Paula Scrofano) – proves to be his downfall
In “Willy Wonka,” the children’s journey is strewn with temptations. Augustus Gloop’s (George Andrew Wolff) gluttony – encouraged by his mother (Paula Scrofano) – proves to be his downfall.
Photo credit: Liz Lauren

Charlie then sets off to explore the chocolate factory in all of its delicious glory. Unlike most children’s stories, the antagonists here aren’t evil stepmothers, witches or monsters. They’re the children themselves.

Joining Charlie on his trek to the mysterious land of candy is the voracious Augustus Gloop (played by the golden-voiced George Andrew Wolff), the bratty Veruca Salt (Jessie Mueller), the gum-chomping Violet Beauregarde (Melanie Brezill) and the technology-inebriated Mike Teavee (played by Travis Turner on Hellys).

Though dealing with a noticeable deficit of character development, the actors perform these scrumptiously gluttonous characters with irresistible playfulness. Leading the brat pack is The House Theatre’s Patrick Andrews in the title role.

Unfortunately, he plays the precociously written Charlie a bit too childlike.

However, the wide-eyed and literal kid-in-a-candy-store excitement that Andrews brings to the table is undeniably enjoyable to watch. Also, everyone in the audience under 5-feet tall noticeably looked up (no pun intended) to Charlie as if he were a hero with a candy-cane crown.

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However, the show is by no means ready to head to the Great White Way. Leslie Bricusse’s score and Tim McDonald’s book could definitely benefit from a trip back to Wonka’s inventing room.

With the exception of the songs made famous by the film adaptation (“Pure Imagination” and “The Candy Man”), the score is mostly forgettable along with the actor’s voices (specifically Sean Fortunato’s bland tenor take on Wonka).

But for the most part, the production thrives in its small-scale simplicity. Its age-old message of humility and kindness is still heartwarmingly contagious and its narrative is as fanciful as ever. Judging by the reactions throughout its opening, the kids will eat up every tasty morsel.

“Willy Wonka” runs every day but Mondays and Tuesdays through Aug. 17, 2008 at the Courtyard Theater at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which is located at 800 E. Grand Ave. in Chicago. Visit here for tickets.


For a complete listing of all shows and reviews in Chicago, visit our partner TheatreInChicago.com. For half-price Chicago theater tickets, visit our partner Goldstar.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Alissa Norby

By ALISSA NORBY
Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
alissa@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2008 Alissa Norby, HollywoodChicago.com

Anonymous's picture

the show is by no means

the show is by no means ready to head to the Great White Way. Leslie Bricusse’s score and Tim McDonald’s book could definitely benefit from a trip back to Wonka’s inventing room.

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