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First Stage's 'Chocolate Factory' Lacks Key Ingredients

Mar. 7, 2012
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Many children today know of Charlie and his “chocolate factory” by way of two films (1971's Willy Wonka, featuring Milwaukee native Gene Wilder, and the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp). Both movies conjured up fantastic worlds filled with delectable delights.

First Stage Children's Theater opened a production last weekend that follows aspects of the basic story line but loses the magic of visual spectacle and wide-eyed wonderment in Richard George's curiously “talky” adaptation. This is, after all, a magical place created for children by the “biggest kid” himself—Willy Wonka. But it's not until a third of the way into the 87-minute production that we finally get to see Wonka in action as he gives a tour to those five lucky kids who find a prized golden ticket in their Wonka Bars. The last ticket is found the day before the fabled tour by the poor, good-hearted Charlie Bucket.

Among the missing items are the dark subplot of sinister candy competitor Slugworth, showcasing the tug of war between good and evil; memorable songs (prerecorded synthesized notes and beats accompany the show's Oompa Loompas singing unfamiliar—and unintelligible—lyrics); and the chance for the audience—young and old—to see and learn how adults can actually (mis)behave like children and, in the case of Charlie, a child can act like a wise, caring adult.

The adult cast does the best it can, given such expository dialogue and stereotypical caricatures. In the Loompa children's cast, Seth Horne was a gentle beacon as the earnest Charlie, radiating innocence and kindness. And in the world of Willy Wonka, that's the final ingredient needed to complete this journey within the chocolate factory. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory runs through March 31 at the Todd Wehr Theater. For more information, call 414-273-7206 or visit www.FirstStage.org.


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