Henry Boshart, left and Noah Weisberg, as Willy Wonka, appear in “Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” at the Golden Gate Theatre. (Courtesy Joan Marcus)

Musical ‘Chocolate Factory’ missing Roald Dahl’s spirit

Shrill stage adaptation lacks joy of classic kids’ book

Thank goodness for the Oompa-Loompas, who, in Act 2, pick up the touring production of “Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” onstage at the Golden Gate Theatre.

The delightful, wee factory workers — red-haired, dancing puppets created by illusion master Basil Twist and operated with glee by the deft corps — exemplify the pure imagination of the musical’s original source, Dahl’s beloved 1964 children’s book about Charlie Bucket, a poor kid whose wildest candy-themed dream comes true.

Sadly, the Oompa-Loompas’ charm doesn’t radiate to other aspects of the shrill musical, also based in part on the 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder as candy wizard Willy Wonka (a project from which Dahl apparently distanced himself).

Director Jack O’Brien puts the volume on high in this 2017 Broadway show (it premiered in London in 2013) with a cluttered book by David Greig and unmemorable songs by Marc Shaiman (music), Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (lyrics) alongside “The Candy Man,” the film’s Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley tune and pop hit for Sammy Davis Jr.

Brittle pop sensibilities overtake this show, which veers in plot and tone from the book, a joyful celebration of confections, creativity, kindness and wit.

There’s little emphasis on the actual candy amid the annoying, pumped-up characters, particularly winners of the prized tickets who get to tour inside Wonka’s secret factory: Gluttonous Augustus Gloop, from Bavaria, gorges on sausage; rich and rude Veruca Salt is inexplicably a ballet dancer; gum-chewer Violet Beauregarde is also hip-hop artist; and obsessive Mike Teavee’s mother is a seeming alcoholic. But why? And the wacky details of their demise, as their bad behavior takes them down, one by one, don’t amuse.

Even the design — scenes and costumes by Mark Thompson, lights by Japhy Weideman, sound by Andrew Keister, projection by Jeff Sugg — is flat and uninspired, except for the cool bed-contraption holding all four of Charlie’s elderly grandparents.

As Willy Wonka, Noah Weisberg is OK, playing the role with perhaps more sass and sarcasm than eccentricity. Three actors are alternating as Charlie; on Wednesday’s opening night, Henry Boshard made a fine impression as the show’s least contrived, most appealing character.

It seems strange that, after 55 years, no major film or stage adaptation has captured the fun spirit and tantalizing tastes of Dahl’s classic. The good news: The book’s readily available. After the show, I immediately started reading it on my phone, reliving a decades-ago pleasure of youth.


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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