It’s this time as the very tail end of a very vigourous theater season, like this one, draws to an end, that one begins to count the hours ~ of the plays one is forced to watch. Or endure would be a better verb. After three hours of yak-yak-yak at “Oslo”, and three hours of chocolate at “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, even though I’m diabetic, I think I’ll take the chocolate. But it’s bittersweet, because not until the last twenty minutes or so does “Charlie” really get sweet enough and funny enough and touching enough not to gag on.
All praise to the divine Jackie Hoffman as the most neurotic of the five sets of adults who have to watch their children die from overeating, over-bubble-gumming and over-greediness.
Jackie Hoffman scored such a big hit playing Mamasita, Joan Crawford’s tart-tounged house-keeper in “Feud” on TV is back on Bway, always a cause for rejoicing.
She, and the utterly delicious, stupendous and tireless Christian Borle as Willy Wonka, really do pull the ending together of this chocolate-coated mishmash. Accompanied by the delightfully woebegone child actor playing Charlie Bucket, Ryan Foust.
Together with Michael Wartella, playing Jackie Hoffman’s obnoxious gadget-obsessed son Mike TeeVee (Jackie is Mrs. TeeVee) they make the magic finally happen as the over-long and rather dreadfully unfunny “Charlie” suddenly comes at last(!) to life. The first act was like watching a dancing corpse that wasn’t dancing, and then we’re saved by Act II and in the final stretch by indefatigable Borle, and an animated video sequence that enthralls as Mrs. Tee Vee watches her son turn into a…well, I guess you’ll have to see it. If you can stand the other over two and a half hours.
This is quite the worst thing I’ve ever seen the brilliant director Jack O’Brien do. The same can be said for the usually excellent composer/lyricist duo of Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman. It’s their weakest work ever. Only the over-familiar, but not written by them, “Candy Man” and “World of My Imagination” really work as music you want to listen to and remember. But they’re standards already. And the um-pa lum-pas(I almost forgot them) are adequte. They’re puppets.
Otherwise, these great talents are just doing it for the paycheck, I’m sorry to say. Which looks like it’s going to be substantial no matter what the critics say. It’s a pre-sold franchise. It might as well have been set in McDonald’s. The Outer Critics Circle nominated it for nothing. No surprise.
The nearly sweating-himself-to-death Christian Borle is just astonishing agile as Willy Wonka and Jackie Hoffman lands every single(badly written) joke, and makes them seem funny. No mean feat, but the lady is a comic genius. And plucky, little Charlie Bucket does tug at your heart strings even though you know he’s doing so.
As Charlie and Willy ascend into a candy-coated, one hopes, heaven in a transparent, plastic elevator, you are genuinely happy for them. Also it means this long schlog which nearly put me in a diabetic coma is coming to an end.