A colourful romp sure to delight
By Bradley Storer
The musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved childhood tale opened in Melbourne this week, and while children will surely be delighted by this colourful romp, I feel its charms may be lost on adults with fond memories of the 1971 film.
The problem is best encapsulated in the treatment of Wonka himself – here onstage from the very first moment of the show, the character loses the mystery and ambiguity of Gene Wilder’s portrayal. In his initial interactions with the unwitting Charlie, Wonka comes off as casually cruel in a way that makes it hard to stomach the rest of his journey, despite Paul Slade Smith’s natural charm and clear command of the role. The wonderment and entrancing beauty of the original story and movie only truly appears in the strains of the classic ‘Pure Imagination’, as video projections and LED lights transform the stage into Wonka’s Edenic candy-land.
On opening night Lenny Thomas was irresistibly loveable as Charlie, particularly in his final scene. Tony Sheldon wielded his stage expertise and comic timing to maximum effect as Grandpa Joe, dropping groan-worthy Aussie references and clearly having the time of his life. As Mrs Bucket, Lucy Maunder was radiant, as always, in a somewhat thankless role.
The quartet of Charlie’s fellow ticket winners are even more unlikeable than you remember, with the exception of Jake Fehily’s glowingly good natured Augustus Gloop (unfortunately buried under a cavalcade of one-note fat jokes). Karina Russell brings beautiful dancing to the screechingly awful Veruca Salt, and her eventual demise is one of the few shocking surprises of the evening. Harrison Riley nails the physical comedy of the sociopathic hacker Mick Teavee, but Jayde Westaby as Mrs Teavee has to deal with an introduction number so fast that the lyrics are completely lost. Backed up by the refreshing Madison McKoy as Mr Beauregard, stand out Jayme-Lee Hanekom is a miniature supernova of talent as ‘queen of pop’ Violet.
I found the new tunes for the show mostly prosaic, despite being lifted by the masterful musical direction of Kelly Dickerson. The ensemble in their multitude of roles are world class, and the appearance of the Oompa Loompas is quite possibly the high point of the entire evening.
Despite the uneven material, the talent, dedication and vitality of the Australian cast shines through, creating a worthwhile family-friendly night at the theatre.
Dates: 15th August – 1st December
Times: 7pm Wednesday, 7:30pm Thursday – Saturday, 2pm Saturday, 1pm Wednesday and Sunday, 6pm Sunday
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, 219 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000
Bookings: ticketek.com.au, 13 28 49, at the box office or Ticketek Outlets.
Photography by Heidi Victoria