‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’

‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’
Stephen Schellhardt (C) plays Willy Wonka in Paramount Theatre’s production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” (Liz Lauren)

AURORA, Illinois-“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which is based on the popular children’s novel by Roald Dahl, got bland reviews when it first played on Broadway in 2017. Director Sam Mendes had reinvented the show, trying to separate it from the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder and the 2005 film with Johnny Depp.

The musical wasn’t as well received because Mr. Mendes had transformed Dahl’s uplifting 1964 children’s book into a more somber version that replaced the story’s hope, inspiration, and fun with a depressing and dismal point of view.

Now, though, that has all changed. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” masterfully directed by Trent Stork at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Illinois, has been staged as an engaging show that’s not only faithful to Dahl’s original intent but is fun-loving entertainment.

A Real Treat

Dahl’s story follows a poor child, Charlie Bucket, who finds a Golden Ticket in a chocolate bar that offers a chance to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Charlie, his Grandpa Joe, and four other Golden Ticket winners enjoy a private tour of the strange “Candy Man” Willy Wonka’s magical and mysterious chocolate factory, hoping for the possibility of winning a lifetime of chocolate.
Gene Weygandt plays Grandpa Joe and Meena Sood is Charlie Bucket. Ms. Sood alternates performances with Charlie Long. (Liz Lauren)
Gene Weygandt plays Grandpa Joe and Meena Sood is Charlie Bucket. Ms. Sood alternates performances with Charlie Long. (Liz Lauren)

Dahl, was inspired to write the novel because of his youthful experience at a Cadbury chocolate company in England. The company would send test packages of chocolates to school kids in exchange for their opinions on new products. Dahl would have appreciated that Paramount’s production focuses on his inspirational theme about the power of desire, imagination, and determination to make dreams come true. Indeed, this show does a great job of highlighting the enchantment, optimism, and perseverance of the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” story.

With its technicolor and sensational sets, its exhilarating musical score, its high-voltage choreography, and enchanting performances, the show is pure magic, not only for the children in the audience but for the adults as well.

Indeed, the sets by designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec are so spectacular that audiences are transported to a realm of fantasy where anything is possible. Adding to the stunning look of the musical is Greg Hofmann’s sparkling lighting design, the fantastic projections by Paul Deziel, and the superb sound design by Adam Rosenthal. Topping it all off are the ravishing, colorful costumes designed by Ryan Park.  It’s obvious that the talent that went into the setting of this show used “Pure Imagination,” (one of the musical’s famous songs) in its attempt to create a dazzling theatrical world.

Furthermore, the choreography by Kasey Alfonso is energetic, with wonderful moments of hilarity interwoven into the dance movements. Last, but not least, is the upbeat musical score given a terrific delivery by the Paramount orchestra, led by music director Kory Danielson

The show is especially captivating because Stephen Schellhardt, who portrays Willy Wonka, not only looks like Gene Wilder but has some of his hilarious nerdy mannerisms and physical quirks that had the kids in the audience laughing at his antics, as well as enjoying his superb take on “The Candy Man.”

Additional charming performances include Charlie Long as Charlie Bucket (alternating performances with Meena Sood, who’s in the photos) and Gene Weygandt as Charlie’s delightful Grandpa Joe, who accompanies his grandchild through the intricacies of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It turns out that in his youth Grandpa was a security guard in the factory. Mr. Weygandt and Mr. Long are delightful in a duet singing “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket“/”Grandpa Joe.” Other contributors include an ensemble that harmonizes together as the hilarious Oompa Loompas.

A fantastic musical production, this “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a beguiling family show that will leave kids and those young at heart in a jolly good mood as they leave the theater. A terrific entertainment to ring in the holidays.

‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ Paramount Theatre 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, Ill. Tickets: 630-896-6666 Runs: 2 hours, 30 minutes Closes: Jan. 14, 2024
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As an arts writer and movie/theater/opera critic, Betty Mohr has been published in the Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Australian, The Dramatist, the SouthtownStar, the Post Tribune, The Herald News, The Globe and Mail in Toronto, and other publications.