Thursday marked opening night for the North Carolina Theatre for Young People’s production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The show was directed by Todd Siff, a graduate student studying Theatre for Young Audiences.
The plot revolves around the story of a young, impoverished child, Charlie Bucket (played by Josh Anderson), winning a “golden ticket” that provides him a tour of an unimaginable candy factory. In his journey through the candy factory, he is accompanied by three other golden-ticket winners, their parents and the most erratic and outlandish factory owner and tour guide, Willy Wonka.
This revamped performance embodied that of a ‘70s sitcom, with humor organically embedded in the characters’ mannerisms. The play is a remake of the original story written in 1964 by the British author Roald Dahl. Its first film adaptation was made in 1971, starring Gene Wilder, and the most recently adaptation was made in 2005, directed by Tim Burton, and starring Johnny Depp.
Being a performance for young audiences, it was very interactive, and began with the main characters going into the audience and mingling with the crowd. Katie Kinser, an audience member and UNCG theatre student said, “Before it started it was almost like going to a rave or a sports event because of the announcer and all the audience interaction and compared to a lot of other shows at UNCG, they really used up all the space of the stage from every corner.”
The set’s modern technology delighted the audience, initially with the “jumbotron” TV camera, filming the audience and being projected on a large screen on stage. The narrator shouted chants for the audience as they danced to the top hits being played, and shied away from their faces on the big screen.
The first character to be introduced after winning the golden ticket was Augustus Gloop, a southern food and chocolate-crazed boy played by Forrest Wilson. The second was the spoiled “daddy’s girl” named Veruca Salt, who was played by Ajé Brown. The third was Violet Beauregarde, a competitive national gum-chewing champion, played by Hana Holloway. And the fourth golden-ticket-winning character was Mike Teavee, a TV, video game and violence obsessed kid played by John Ganim III.
Tori Eure, a UNCG theatre student who plays Mrs. Beauregarde, (Violet’s mother) praised the unique audition/call-back process of the production, “The call-backs were really cool because we got to take oompa loompa monologues and get into groups and perform these any way we wanted. We got to present them really out of the box in order for the director to see how youthful and fun and crazy each of us were.” The energy of the show was so powerful, shown through the variety of uniquely distinct characters, as each actor was able to focus their energy on the bewildering and comedic elements presented throughout the play. Undoubtedly, youthful curiosity and liveliness was a crucial aspect for each actor in landing a role in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, starring in the show for musical interludes, the oompa loompas were played by child actors between the ages of seven to 14.
With so many film adaptations, Eure was asked how she was able to unearth her role without copying other versions, to which she said, “In the beginning I found myself wanting to do it like the actress Missi Pyle, (who plays Mrs. Beauregarde) from the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version, and I found myself doing it in rehearsals. Then we started doing mini improvisation scenes with our family units, and I guess from that, with the collaboration with Violet we found a happy medium of incorporating what we wanted as actors and what Todd wanted from us without mimicking the movies.” With so many adaptations, it was refreshing to see the innovative yet recognizably newfangled spin on each of the characters, and the chronology of the storyline itself.
John Ganim, a UNCG theatre student who plays the role of Mike Teavee said, “If there’s anything the UNCG community should know about this production it’s that, the modernized vision of the story reflects our society and behaviors. It really takes you out of the adult world with the fun nature. The style it is told in really forces you to remove yourself from the reigns the adult world holds on you and it really brings you back to a child like state. People can expect to see a new story as the actors were really challenged to include their takes on the character and not recreate anything you’ve seen before.”
Interestingly enough, the production in some respects honors Roald Dahl’s vision and original idea for the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. According to NPR, the widowed Felicity Dahl, said, “his first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy,” and in response to this, Roald “Dahl faced numerous accusations of racism both on and off the printed page.” The configuration and delivery of this colorful breakthrough production was truly remarkable, and accredited to this social era and community of UNCG, where the timeless work of artists is unbound by the limits of racism, bigotry and sexism.
Though this production was presented by The North Carolina Theater for Young People, the humor, excitement and visuals were entertaining for people of all ages. The innovative set technology and diverse cast provided a modern interpretation of a classic story told over generations, and one that can be enjoyed today by everyone.