Another Roald Dahl book turned into a musical has hit the West End like a storm (after the very successful Matilda, an RSC production which has been running for nearly 2 years at the Cambridge Theatre where it moved after sell out performances at Stratford-Upon-Avon) and it is as sugary as the title suggests.
Although I missed bits of the illustrated start of the show due to latecomers and noisy members of the audience (which were not only children), I got immersed into the story fairly quickly.
Jack Costello, who I remembered seeing as Gustave, the son of the Phantom and Christine in Love Never Dies, was playing the protagonist and his acting and sweet voice were ideally suited for the humble and brave Charlie Bucket. The song where he writes to Willy Wonka explaining his ideas to improve his family’s life via chocolate and sweets brought a few tears to my eyes, and the adorable moments with his grandparents were also a great source of laughter, especially the ones caused by the witty comments from Grandpa Jo (an inspired Nigel Planer who put more dynamism to the first half).
Playing Charlie’s father was Jack Shalloo, whose performing and singing talents I have had the pleasure of witnessing in the new musical Departure Lounge and in various cabarets including the album launch of one of my favorite musical theatre composers, Dougal Irvine, (writer of Departure Lounge) and even his own “Summer with… Jack Shaloo and Friends” at the Battersea Barge a couple of years ago where he presented his own material. As usual, he demonstrates how versatile he is, here portraying a young dad struggling to support his family and give his son a future.
Although not appearing much in the first half, Willy Wonka himself, the amazing Douglas Hodge, back on the London stage after returning from Broadway where he starred in Cyrano de Bergerac, brought more energy and funny situations to the second half. His comic timing and interaction with the kids was admirable and helped to show Willy’s “madness” but also his tender and more “human” side.
The brilliant songs are written by the American composing duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (they also wrote the songs for the NBC hit TV show Smash starring Megan Hilty and Katherine McPhee).
There were many more highlights; from the very colourful scenery which was swiftly changed and the creative costumes; to the hilarious Oompa-Loompas with their fluorescent attire and energetic choreographies (which remind me of the minions from a very recent sequel of a children’s movie), the well accomplished special effects particularly when the naughty children get “punished” and the incredibly talented group of young actors playing the golden ticket winners.
I have to admit I had an urge to buy Wonka chocolate during the break and I ended up eating a whole one.
Definitely this is a show that both adults and children will enjoy, with a great story, a magical book and score, and an outstanding cast that will transport you to a world of pure imagination where dreams can come true.
Review by Anna Riera