Chocolate for a little child is purely joyful.
Unless you’re Charlie Bucket. The little lad, who is on the cusp of another birthday, loves chocolate, loves its taste, loves its magic. So much so that Charlie gets a special Wonka chocolate only once a year from his mother and spends the other 364 days savoring it in order to make it last.
As much as Charlie loves chocolate, it also represents something very painful. It’s a reminder of all he doesn’t have, of all he desires, and all his mother cannot provide. This year’s birthday sees the family’s finances are in ruins, putting his annual decadent delight in peril.
In an exquisite production at San Francisco’s SHN Golden Gate Theatre, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” now playing through May 12th, has a strong combination of classic story and fantastic spectacle. Young Charlie, like the chocolate he loves, is loaded with goodness. He is a boy chock-full of ideals despite the other part of his diet consisting of vegetables that live on in his gut past their expiration date. Charlie (opening night performer and wonderful talent Henry Boshart, one of three in the title role) is flanked by his sweet, widowed mother (Amanda Rose) and his very old Grandpa Joe (James Young). Both are thunderously supportive of Charlie, and supportive of his plan to sidestep his fate and attempt to get the chocolate bar that houses the golden ticket. Songs like “Charlie, You and I” and “If You’re Father Were Here” accentuate that point beautifully, constructed by the composing collaboration of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, glued together with David Grieg’s pithy and witty book.
Now that golden ticket will get one lucky boy or girl an all-access pass to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory, and Charlie sees a future in chocolate. Not just to eat it, mind you, but to create it, sell it, and innovate the sweet treat for generations to come. An all-access pass and access to the great chocolate maker himself (an astute performance by Noah Weisberg) makes Charlie giddy with possibilities.
But so far, one thing is standing right in his way, and that’s a bunch of awful kids around the world who are snatching up the tickets, kids who are winning the lottery without really even entering. They eat too much, bitch too much, show off too much. They are the children of the seven deadly sins.
While the story goes in some directions with these kids in the form of irreverent humor, it is handled with a cartoony flair. These awful kids blow up, dance too fast, melt into fountains, all of it. It’s a tricky balance for sure, having to stay true to the very popular original source material, the classic 1964 children’s book by Roald Dahl.
While the cartoony violence may not be to everyone’s taste, director Jack O’Brien really handles this hint of a conundrum quite succinctly. Action moves fast, paced with plenty of deliberate nonsense, which keeps the show appropriate for all without compromising its edge.
The show is at its best when it’s being incredibly inventive, and that starts and finishes with one of the trickier aspects of the show – the Oompa Loompas. They are the hard-working chocolatiers who live in the factory making endless amounts of chocolate.
This wonderful, brilliant piece of magic is due to three components. There are clearly the ensemble talents whose expressive faces are joyful. And there is also Basil Twist’s amazing puppetry along with Joshua Bergasse’s fantastic choreography. Finally, all these aspects are unified by the lighting design of Japhy Weideman. The Oompa Loompas are worth the price of admission on their own.
What is about chocolate that makes so many of us feel good? In the case of this story, our chocolate satisfaction comes from seeing a child so pure and good rewarded for his behavior. Like a perfect truffle or a warm, moist slice of blackout cake, the story of Charlie Bucket fills the cravings we have, and it is as precious as any sweet we can consume.
In this production, the Candy Man surely can.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
SHNSF presents “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
Book by David Greig
Music and Lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Witman
Directed by Jack O’Brien
The Word: A delightful interpretation of the classic Roald Dahl story that soars on the back of its protagonist.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5
Running time: Two hours, 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Through May 12th
SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco, CA
Tickets range from $56 – $256
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com