SALT LAKE CITY — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has always been one of my favorite stories, and the version produced by The Children’s Theatre and directed by Joanne M. Parker reminded me why.
Our evening started as the lights dimmed and the music began. The lovely narrator (Jessica Wilson) engaged the children immediately with her bubbly personality and large excited eyes as she tells the weaving tale of how Charlie came to see the chocolate factory. Each one of the five lucky ticket winners are introduced, with loud costumes and personalities that immediately sucked the children right into the play. When we enter the home of Charlie Bucket (Charlie Junkins) and his family, Charlie has just had his birthday and came home with good news that he found the lucky ticket. The scene next moves to the chocolate factory with Willy Wonka (Nels Holmgren) and his Oompa Loompas, who just happened to be played by large, brightly colored puppets designed by Jessica Wilson.
During the entire time we are in the chocolate factory, each lucky ticket winner’s personality continues to grow and we learn a little bit more about whom they are and what they want from life. One by one, the children meet their doom until Charlie is left alone with his grandpa Joe (Tyler Boegler). Augustus Gloop (Spencer Hohl) just wants to eat and taste something yummy, which in the long run gets him sucked right into the fudge machine. Veruca Salts (Lucy Holmgren) is always after something that she can’t have and ends up being a “bad nut.” Mike Teevee (Cameron Colony) is so into action that he gets caught in the radar gun and becomes a little action figure himself. Violet Beauregard (Phoenix Poore) can’t stop chewing gum and doesn’t follow instructions from adults, so she ends up turning the color of her name. And then there is Charlie Bucket, our main character who has little in life and is just grateful to be there.
The actors, both adults and children, were exceptional. One of my favorites was Nels Holmgren as Willy Wonka, with his brightly colored tux coat and amazing personality. Holmgren had a way of constantly keeping the children’s attention with his overly sized gestures and hilarious personality. Next there is Hohl, with his great accent and suspenders, and Lucy Holmgren as Veruca Salts, who kept my attention with her dual personality the entire time. She was always in character and if I didn’t know better I would have thought that she was really Veruca and not somebody else in real life.
Each adult matched the personality of their child, with the exception of Mr. Teevee (Matthew Windham) who was dressed as a California beach bum and his child was a western cowboy. His jokes were for adults, which also bothered me because few of the adults were laughing at them and the jokes just distracted from the childhood fantasy that the rest of the characters were creating. The only other actor that had a few troubling moments would have to be our main lead and star, Charlie Junkins. Junkins’s on-stage personality was great and I loved his dancing, but the way he spoke his lines sometimes seemed forced to me.
The last pieced of the puzzle was the set and lighting (Hazel Studio) which were amazing. Everything was painted in bright colors and was very simplistic and the lighting introduced just enough fantasy to help with the atmosphere of the play. However, the music was too loud, and when it was on I had a hard time hearing the actors singing or talking.
Overall I liked the play, with all its cheesy humor and overly loud acting and costumes to make the children love it and stay focused, and when it comes down to it that is all that matters.