SOUTH SALT LAKE — Utah Children’s Theatre is something of an institution in the Salt Lake Valley, churning out lively theater capable of drawing the attention of young children while introducing a level of talent and entertainment to interest adults. Upon my first visit to this little theater in South Salt Lake, I was delighted to find that the rumors are true: UCT is a charming place.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a familiar story with a book by Roald Dahl, and already adapted into two films, so I shan’t bore our readers with a recap. This theatrical version by Richard R. George tells the story with splendid succinctness, chopping through mounds of exposition to deliver the meat of the story: Charlie is poor but he gets to go to the factory with other children, all of whom are horrid.
A sweet-as-candy narrator played by Larissa Anderson set up the story, sweeping the audience along with clipped, engaging dialogue and bouncy blocking. Anderson’s role was a useful one, as I had wondered how a stage play for children would handle Dahl’s voluminous exposition. Though the 1971 film version manages to make all the hype about the candy both hyperbolic and hilarious, all that nonsense would become bulky on stage, so I was glad to see it skillfully recounted in fewer words.
The five children who frequent the candy factory were all delightful, from Henry Holmgren as the voracious Augustus Gloop to Tyler Bender as the high-strung and spoiled Veruca Salt, to Themi Kamouris as the inattentive and demanding Mike Teevee, to Alina Smith as obnoxious debutante Violet Beauregarde. Cameron Liddle as the titular Charlie didn’t have much to do in this script, unlike the other children whose colorful brands of misbehavior gave them moments to shine. Liddle was, however, genuine and lovely, his dialogue crystal clear and his presence vibrant. I was most impressed with the young talent on the stage and thought the child actors very much stole the show. Opening monologues gave each child a chance to show off their range, and the moments when the naughty children were taken away were done very creatively given the humble space. I especially liked Holmgren’s disappearance into the chocolate pipes and Bender’s journey into the garbage chute, accompanied by her father (played by Christopher Taylor).
Unlike the 1971 film or the current stage adaptation on Broadway, this play is not a musical, though like the novel and the 2005 film adaptation, the Oompa Loompas came out to sing a little ditty about each foolish transgressor. The lyrics were straight from Dahl’s novel, and the tunes were fun and simple, giving the young performers room to practice the art of audible and intelligible singing. I found the Oompa Loompas adorable. Their white chef uniforms, big googly glasses, and painted-on blue mustaches were a hoot. Costume designers Cathy Maurer and Julie Anderson showed a great deal of creativity with these costumes, which were unexpected and refreshing. The dance captain of the singing brood was a teeny-tiny gymnast, hardly older than 8 years old, flipping, tumbling, and jumping all over the stage.
Elements of the play that impressed were the large movable set pieces in the small space. The famous boat scene was executed quite well, with the adult actors guiding the piece around and lights, sound, and a fog machine creating atmosphere. As I mentioned, the chocolate pipes and garbage chute were both entertaining, and there was also a wheeled platform on which the Oompa Loompas moved around, giving the stage much-needed visual levels. The great glass elevator was creative in its simplicity, with LED lights attached to a PVC cube that wheeled to and fro, leaving the rest to “pure imagination”.
This scrumdiddlyumptious and silly performance was a nice, breezy way to spend the afternoon, and I was glad to have a chance to introduce my little nephew to the theater. It is very nice to know there is a solid place in the valley to give tykes their first taste of live performance. If you have a young child who needs a taste of the magic of live performance, it is hard to beat Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.