Review: ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

The night I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the new musical based on Roald Dahl’s novel, the theatre was packed with moms and dads with little kids in tow. All of them seemed to know the story from the films, (one that starred Gene Wilder and another with Johnny Depp) and when certain key characters appeared on stage, they giggled and laughed and applauded (one little girl in front of me actually cried, but once she realized these were actors playing roles and not really fat boys, mean-mouthed mamas, and other bizarre creatures, she seemed to have a fine time). I, who have never seen either film, found this musical version oddly sweet and gooey, but David Greig’s book I found more Dull than Dahl.

Christian Borle and the cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Photo by Joan Marcus.

As a result, despite star Christian Borle’s game effort to inject charm into the characters of Willie Wonka and the Candy Man, the long first act didn’t offer me much to cheer about. Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who did a nice job on the score to “Smash”, the TV series, had themselves a hit with their musical version of Hairspray. But presently the four songs from the film, written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newly, walk off with honors as the best of the evening, as they’ve been resurrected for this outing.

There are two excellent actors doing their best to inject energy and hilarity into the roles of Grandpa and Mrs. Teevee but for the most part John Rubenstein and Jackie Hoffman only serve to remind us how wonderful he was as the original Pippin and she was as Maude P. Dilly in the last revival of On The Town. They both have their moments here, but their material does not cut the mustard.

The cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Three young boys share the role of Charlie, and an extraordinary tot named Ryan Foust played him on my night. The youngster carries most of the first act because after Christian Borle practically disappears, most of the magic is in the hands of the boy, the special effects, and the lighting. The second act improves noticeably for Mr. Borle comes into his own and the Oompa Loompas arrive, diminutives played by 8 red-wigged real-live ladies who perform some very tricky choreography with great esprit. Their opening number, “The Oompa Loompa Song” is one of the lively Bricusse-Newley numbers, but Shaiman and Wittman finally get in the groove with four lively ditties, which give Christian Borle a chance to remind us why we think of him as a genuine musical comedy star.

Mark Thompson’s scenic and costume designs, when placed together in some of the ensemble numbers, give us a look at what an expensive Broadway musical should look like. The glass elevator that takes Charlie and Willie Wonka into the world of the Imagination is sleek and once again the show looks worthy of a large stage like the one in the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The slight story involves poor Charlie’s prayer that he will win one of the five golden tickets that are hidden in chocolate bars from the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory, and once that miracle occurs, he doesn’t dare to hope for the Grand Prize which can go to only one of the five winners.

Does he win it? That would be a spoiler and you’ll have to find out not only who wins it, but what it is. Just be prepared for a long wait before you get to enter the factory in Act Two, so you can judge for yourself what all the fuss is about.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory plays at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre – 205 West 46th Street, in New York, NY. For tickets, call Ticketmaster at (877) 250-2929 or purchase them online.

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RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.


  1. I saw the show w/my family on March 30th & it SUCKED! I have seen community theater Summer stock that was better than this piece of crap! High school plays have been better & had far better sets! I was so excited about seeing this & what a huge disappointment! Don’t waste your time & hard earned money on this awful show!


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