Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical Review | Palace Theatre | Manchester
A multitude of golden tickets have been dispatched, offering Palace Theatre audiences the chance to watch the live reincarnation of Roald Dahl’s 1964 children's classic.
The Candyman’s hypnotic soundtrack and enthralling factory setting are embedded in every adult's memory thanks to the 1971 Gene Wilder-led film. But here Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s (Hairspray) original soundtrack pulls on the heartstrings to remind audiences why the love for Charlie has not fizzled despite the book's multiple reincarnations.
Building on the strength of Dahl’s story, William Blakes's illustrations and its most notable musical moments of the film adaptation, director James Brining centres much of the playful tale on the Bucket family and their lack of fortune, sliding the four to a bed family around the stage for a first act of painfully grounded realism before conjuring up an enticing show that uplifts the story into a second act full of Pure Imagination. While the talented Charlie (Harmony Raine Riley) is left to patch up the family's leaky roof, the show picks up the four other ticket winners from around the globe. Utilising a handful of props and hard to translate song lyrics devoted to them. Veruca’s (Kazmin Borrer) stands out as a formidable character with a memorable theme song, When Veruca Says, however, the rest of the cast are given some questionable tracks to work with, especially Mike Teavee's, It's Teavee Time! which becomes completely undecipherable.
Its imposing abstract set pieces are designed to pull in the luring crowds who desperately want a glimpse of the previously unseen Chocolate factory. But once inside the show's use of projections makes the innovation of the factory and its fantastical ideas fall flat, with placements too far off centre or ideas projected onto the floor, making it impossible for front row and far left audiences to see. While the focus on the memorable music also pulls away from the original tale, the lyrics become a blur of gibberish, sung too fast to understand, and only enjoyable due to the live orchestration.
There are a few larger set pieces left to impress the crowd as Wonka picks off his collection of kids. But without the framing of an immersive factory, the use of transitions relies on projections and the small ensemble casts choreography to move the visuals alongside the familiar story. Splitting between a classic first act and its candy-coated backdrop, to a more modernised second act with robot Oompa-Loompas and an adorable squirrel worker. The moralistic storyline and fantastic soundtrack feel muddled as the live show is developed into a down-to-earth production that attempts to reconnect to the heart of Dahl’s tale but fails to showcase the creativity of the factory.
The attention-seeking ensemble is led by the fantastic Harmony Raine Riley as Charlie, who carries the story with heart and holds the crowd's interest for the entire first half of the story. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast of child performers aren’t given much to do before they each drop off the tour of Wonka’s alluring rooms of wonder.
While the sets don’t hit as hard as its music, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical doesn’t aim to recapture your childhood memories of it on stage, and it doesn’t step on the toes of the much-loved previous adaptation. It walks a fine line between a modern classic where robots have taken the Oompa-Loompas job and its production's memorable casting offers a heartfelt rendition for the next generation.