by Beki Pineda

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY – Book by David Greig; Music by Marc Shaiman; Lyrics by Scott Wittman and March Shaiman; Directed by Jack O’Brien. Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway (Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through July 28. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.

Supremely confident, very talented (but young) Noah Weisberg introduces his character – Willy Wonka – to the audience with “The Candy Man” as he prepares to disguise himself as a candy store owner who only sells Wonka products. Willy has decided he is old enough to think about leaving his vast candy factory to someone who will appreciate it and continue on his line of creative candies. Charlie Bucket wanders into the store and is excited to see all his favorite Wonka candy; he gets one bar a year on his birthday. He learns about the contest that is going on that allows five lucky people a chance to tour Willy Wonka’s amazing factory if they can find the Golden Tickets wrapped around the candy. Of course, Charlie finds the last Golden Ticket and wins the coveted tour.

Written as a morality play which illustrates that bad things happen to bad people (who in this case, just happen to be kids), the four other Golden Ticket winners are spoiled, greedy, and undisciplined. Augustus Gloop is a chubby child pampered by his folk-dancing mother and allowed to eat anything he likes. It just gives her “More of Him to Love.” Then we have Veruca Salt, a ballet dancing Russian diva with her father wrapped firmly around her finger. Next comes Violet Beauregarde, a rapping “Queen of Pop” (the pop being her chewing gum – it’s what she’s known for). And lastly, Mike Teavee is a contemporary kid wrapped up in his “devices” and game playing. The audience cheered when Willy stepped on his phone! It doesn’t take Charlie and Willy long to connect and discover they are brothers bonded in chocolate. Each of the other kids are destroyed in a scenario of their own making; a little harsh but it certainly makes the point. We soon see Charlie and Willy floating over London and enjoying “The View from Here.” Happy ending – except for the naughty children . . .  which, by the way, are played by adult actors. The only actual child in the cast is the one of three boys who plays Charlie at different performances (Rueby Wood on opening night).

While the footage of the London production shows an extravagant chocolate factory full of dangerous devices and tricky special effects, the touring version leaves more to the imagination of the audience. The sets and projections still provide colorful accompaniment to the music and action on stage, but there are also parts of the story that demand an imaginative approach. For this viewer, the most creative aspect to the story was the delightful way they created the Oompa Loompas, Willy’s factory workers.  In the two previous movies, they were orange-ish little people who sang and danced their way through their daily chores. Would be hard to find that many little people who could tour — so they devised the best set of singing, dancing puppets you’ve ever seen. What an incredible work of coordination this had to have been to get all of these puppet creatures to work together and synchronize their TAP dancing. Their sequences are worth the price of the ticket right there!!

This is a bright and beautiful production which will delight the children in your family while engaging the adults in the multilayered moral lessons being taught from Dahl’s source material. It combines aspects of both the Gene Wilder version and the later Johnny Depp/Tim Burton movie while creating an all new theatrical version. Four years in London and nine months on Broadway allowed the producers to refine the confectionery tale down to its sweet essence and save the best for the current touring version.

Willy sings a song to end Act I called “It Must Be Believed to Be Seen,” a reverse take on the old saying. It couldn’t help but remind me of a sweet scene I witnessed over thirty years ago at the old Bonfils theatre. The bill of fare was a children’s theatre production called “The Invisible People” about a little girl who was helped out of a difficult family situation by her group of invisible friends. The premise being that if you didn’t believe in invisible people, you couldn’t see them. During the meet-and-greet with the cast members after the show, one little boy shyly shook the hand of one of the “invisible” actors and turned to his mother to ask, “I can see him, Mommy. Can you??” It must be believed to be seen. That’s theatre.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!