The musical version of the popular story based on Roald Dahl’s novel with a book by David Greig, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Whittman and Shaiman, is what it should be as family entertainment. The show, also based on songs from the motion picture, is eye-popping with colorful scenic and costume design by Mark Thompson, and elaborate lighting design by Japhy Weidman. The spectacle alone should keep youngsters enthralled.
Yes, the show drags some in the second act and could use tightening, but the length is alleviated by such entertaining showpieces as the dancing little characters, tiny by virtue of performers cleverly using puppet fronts to get the needed effect. (Choreography is by Joshua Bergasse.) There is also the emotional buildup to Charlie achieving his dream. Fans of the film may have their own assessments, but on its own terms this show, smartly directed by Jack O’Brien, succeeds respectably.
The musical has two major elements going for it in addition to the spectacle. Christian Borle as Willy Wonka is a force unto himself. He emits sparkle and boundless energy, which provides the show with wrap-around charm. Borle comes across as a dynamic song and dance man who gives the production power.
Then there is Charlie. The role is played by three different young actors at alternating performances. At the performance I saw Ryan Foust was Charlie, and he was terrific. Child actors can be overly cute, but Foust is thoroughly winsome. He is extremely talented whether acting or singing, and he gives the show heart as well as fulfills the difficult task of co-carrying the show with Borle. (The others playing Charlie are Ryan Flynn and Ryan Sell—an abundance of Ryans.)
There is a large supporting cast and those with highlighted turns are especially amusing. There are too many to mention here, but they contribute an air of craziness to what at its root a very sentimental story. At the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 26, 2017.