Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 21, 2019

REVIEW: The Bushnell, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through February 24, 2019
by Michael J. Moran

Based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel of the same name, which also inspired two popular films, this 2013 musical opened in London, running for three and a half years before a reworked version transferred to Broadway, where it ran for nine months before launching the current national tour.

With a book by David Greig, and music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (the “Hairspray” team), the production tells the story of how and why legendary chocolatier Willy Wonka reopens his mysterious chocolate factory for a tour by five lucky winners of golden tickets found in Wonka candy bars. Replacing the injured actor Noah Weisberg for the entire Hartford run, stand-in Benjamin Howes is a kinetic and appealing Wonka, rivaling even Gene Wilder in the 1971 film, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

Unlike in the book and films, Wonka doubles in the stage version as the candyshop-keeper who opens the show with its most familiar musical number, “The Candy Man” (yes, the Sammy Davis, Jr. hit). This is one of three songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley from the film that are featured in the show, along with “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” and “Pure Imagination.” The charismatic rendition by Howes quickly sweeps the audience into the musical’s magic spell.

While all five golden ticket winners are children, only the titular Charlie Bucket is played by a child actor. As on Broadway, three young actors alternate performances in the touring cast. On opening night 10-year-old, Henry Boshart gave a sweet, winning account of the role. He was ably supported by the heart-warming Amanda Rose (who nails her solo “If Your Father Were Here”) as his mother, and by the magnetic Colin Bradbury as his Grandpa Joe, who joins Charlie on his life-changing Wonka tour. Hilarious Brynn Williams as chewing-gum-loving “queen of pop” Violet and spacey Daniel Quadrino as “vidiot” Mike Teavee stood out as obnoxious fellow tourists.

While some antics in Act II may disturb the youngest viewers, eye-popping projection design by Jeff Sugg, astonishing “puppet and illusion design” (for Wonka’s “oompa loompa” employees) by Basil Twist, exhilarating choreography by Joshua Bergasse, and joyous direction by Jack O’Brien will captivate children of all ages who see this engaging production.