A Sweet Wonka in Oconomowoc
It’s a story that has been very familiar to a great many people over the decades. An impoverished kid looks to get the golden ticket that will allow him into a magical chocolate factory. He is there with several other kids, guided by a mysterious candy maker who is secretly looking for someone to take his place.
The New Theatre on Main brings that story to life onstage this month as it presents Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory--a musical adaptation of the classic children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The relatively new musical is a fusion between the novel and the stage with songs taken from the original 1971 film.
The tiny space of The New Theatre rests on the end of a strip mall in Oconomowoc. The drably muted colors of the impoverishment of little Charlie Bucket contrast starkly against the big technicolor brilliance of the chocolate factory in a big way in such a cozy studio theatre. Director Allison Chicorel has done a sharply clever job of moving a rather large cast through a rather small space in a way that makes it feel big and spacious.
Timothy J. Barnes cuts a very warm and charismatic figure as Willy Wonka. He's a little bit Depp, a little bit Wilder and a whole lot of something else entirely. He is accompanied to the stage with a chorus of child actresses cast as adorable, little Oompa Loompas. Chicorel works remarkably well with the child cast. There's a lot going on here that takes place on a very small stage. The action may drag a little bit in the first half, but the fact that it almost with such efficiency without feeling perfunctory or forced or anything less than genuine is quite an accomplishment and a great deal of fun to watch.
Contrasting against tradition, the production casts Madeline Dixon as hero Charlie Bucket. It's a girl named Charlie Who has always appeared as a boy and likely every previous incarnation of the story. Dixon is dynamic in the role. She sings. She dances. She inspires. The character has tremendous atomism and selflessness and Dixon gives every impression that these are qualities that are completely natural to her.
The adaptation of the 1964 book updates it, bringing into a largely contemporary era. Pulling out of its original era can be a bit distracting in places, but it's nice to see author Roald Dahl's social satire brought forward about a half a century. Of particular note is a very confident and determined Gabriel Hagedorn as Mike Teavee with an iPad and two phones preoccupied with Pokémon. Ivy Broder looks every bit the entitled, little Trumpling as the ever-spoiled Veruca Salt. A clever bit of dialogue by Wonka makes the connection quite obvious mentioning her potential as a politician. Fun stuff.
With so many children in the cast, this production plays remarkably well as a children's show. My five-year-old daughter has likely seen more live productions been to many children her age. One can tell when she's genuinely interested, though. When Little Charlie finally got her golden ticket just before intermission, my daughter looked up at me with a huge smile on her face and said, "I KNEW she was going to get it!" Chicorel and company do an excellent job of following the engaging an audience with this one.
The New Theatre On Main’s staging of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory runs through Dec. 4 at W359N5920 Brown Street in Oconomowoc. For ticket reservations and more, visit the New Theatre On Main online.