“Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is onstage at the Golden Gate Theatre through May 12. (Courtesy Joan Marcus)

‘Chocolate Factory’ producer holds golden ticket for screen-to-stage musicals

Show based on Roald Dahl’s classic a case of evolution

Mark Kaufman, a producer on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” now onstage in The City, has had a hand in making movies sing on Broadway or elsewhere for almost two decades.

The executive vice president at Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures started in music licensing at New Line Cinema a few years before its acquisition by Turner Broadcasting, which was subsequently merged into Time Warner.

“We inherited a Castle Rock catalog,” he recalls, “and there was a composer there that I was very familiar with, who wrote the scores for ‘Misery’ and ‘City Slickers.’ So, Margo Lion, the producer, came to us for the rights for ‘Hairspray’ and also to introduce us this composer she wanted us to hire named Marc Shaiman. I was already such a fan that it was the easiest ‘yes’ I’ve ever had in my life.”

In the years since, Kaufmann has said yes to musical adaptations “The Wedding Singer,” “Elf,” and “The Bridges of Madison County,” among others. He’s currently consumed with opening “Beetlejuice” on Broadway, but not so much that he can’t reminisce about another title he dearly loves.

Kaufman joined the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” project in London in 2013. “We had already been booked into a theater, we had a star, and we had Marc,” he notes, referring to the new song score written by Shaiman and his “Hairspray” collaborator Scott Wittman.

He says his biggest contribution was getting “Pure Imagination” — the song from 1971 movie “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” staring Gene Wilder and featuring an Oscar-nominated score by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley — into the new musical.

The London production was revised for Broadway in 2017 and Kaufman encouraged further interpolation of the two scores.

“In London, the book by Roald Dahl was sort of king, whereas, in the U.S., the movie is king. What I found is that when you gave audiences the songs they wanted, like you know, ‘I’ve Got a Golden Ticket’ and ‘Pure Imagination’ and ‘Candy Man,’ they appreciated Marc and Scott’s score more.”

The show’s look was equally open to revision. “Sam Mendez did this ginormous set in London. Jack O’Brien, our director in New York, wanted to do something completely different. It’s a story about pure imagination, so we did something much more imaginary. Some people responded to it, and some people didn’t respond as much because they wanted what was in the movie.”

“These shows evolve,” he concludes, “and ‘Charlie’ is a perfect example of a show that really evolved.”


Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Presented by SHN

Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes May 12

Tickets: $40 (rush) to $226

Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

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