By Staff Writer Kylie Cooper.
I walked into the Providence Performing Arts Center on February 5 expecting to enjoy a lighthearted night full of singing Oompa-Loompas and chocolate waterfalls. When I walked out, however, I felt conflicted by nightmare-ish squirrels tearing apart a girl and Charlie Bucket’s happy ending.
Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — The New Musical came to Providence from February 5-10, attracting groups of students who weren’t even born when Tim Burton’s 2005 adaptation was released and adults who grew up with Gene Wilder’s interpretation of Willy Wonka.
The show began with Willy Wonka, played by Benjamin Howes, singing “The Candy Man” in a beautifully vibrant purple jacket, plaid green pants, and iconic top hat. Howes had a powerful voice and relaxed into the role as the show progressed, but it was Collin Jeffery who stole the spotlight as Charlie.
10-year-old Jeffery had an incredible, unwavering voice and delivered his lines with the youthful energy one would expect. The height difference alone between Jeffery and the rest of the cast served as a reminder of his inspiring talent and dedication that far exceeds his years.
Even the actors portraying Charlie’s grandparents couldn’t help but smile as he sang “A Letter From Charlie Bucket”, in which Charlie penned a letter to Wonka with ideas for sweet inventions that would improve his poor family members’ lives.
The severity of the Bucket family’s poverty was embedded throughout much of Act I but was lightened up by their old lady vegetable seller, Mrs. Green, who pushed a shopping cart full of rotten greens across the stage and croakily shouted, “Buy your secondhand vegetables here!”
The first four Golden Ticket winners clearly mocked stereotypes; Augustus Gloop of Germany’s fat suit was enormous and he carried sausage links during his entire time on stage; Veruca Salt of Russia was a spoiled ballerina and often spoke with her nose upturned; Violet Beauregarde of California was a gum-chewing, aspiring celebrity; and Mike Teavee of the Midwest was addicted to technology, hated his mother, and swaggered across the stage with a tablet and headphones clinging to him.
However, after the introduction of the Golden Ticket winners, the show took an unnecessary turn with Mrs. Bucket’s performance of “If Your Father Were Here”. While admittedly tear-inducing, the song that claimed life would be better if Mr. Bucket were still alive seemed as though the creators wanted to check the “emotional” box and then forgot all about it.
Act II is when the show really took an unexpected turn. Following the classic “Pure Imagination” and “The Oompa Loompa Song” numbers was the prompt killing of Violet, who had become a bubble and was popped by an Oompa-Loompa who shot a blowdart at her. She exploded into purple goo all over her father, just her sneakers remaining.
Then, Veruca journeyed into the Nut Room to steal a squirrel. The squirrel costumes were absolutely horrifying; their head masks had glowing yellow eyes that sharply contrasted from their midnight black bodies. If the costumes weren’t bad enough, the squirrels then tore Veruca apart after deeming her a “bad nut,” emerging with her arms and legs dismembered.
Charlie did not find these deaths disturbing; he claimed the tour through the factory was the best thing that had ever happened in his life. The rapid dismissal of Violet and Veruca’s gruesome ends was quite alarming.
The musical concluded with Charlie in his own Wonka outfit and proudly owning his position as Wonka’s candy-making partner. Many theatregoers left the show saying it was amazing, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Wonka simply being a capitalist taking absolute advantage of young children across the world.
While the costumes and set were beautifully colorful and the cast fit into their roles very well, the image of Veruca’s limbs being carried off by furry nightmare creatures will never be erased from my mind. Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — The New Musical may not have been a golden ticket, but I overall do not regret journeying into its world of pure imagination.