Willy Wonka Jr. Review

Willy Wonka Jr. is published by Broadway Jr., a company with a very clever idea. They offer condensed and “cleaned up” versions of popular musicals such as Into the Woods and Guys and Dolls. Some of the “extraneous” production numbers are cut, and the dialogue is substantially trimmed. The average show’s running time is under 80 minutes. The result is a kid-friendly, easy-to-produce show, suitable for young performers.

The downside: all of the trimming and revising can remove some of the heartfelt elements of the musical. Case in point: Willy Wonka Jr.

Film Adaptations

The storyline has been through many renovations since Roald Dahl first created his hilarious and enchanting novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In 1971, the book was adapted into a popular musical film, starring Gene Wilder as the incomparable candy-making genius, Willy Wonka.

Tim Burton’s 2005 version incorporated some elements of the book (such as the father who works at the tooth paste factory) not found in the original film. However, he also threw in a lot of his own idiosyncratic material.

Ultimately, the remake is quirky and visually hypnotic, but not as satisfying as the 1971 classic. Wilder’s manic performance exceeds Johnny Depp’s quietly eerie Wonka by miles. But enough about the movies, how does the Broadway Jr. version hold up?

The Children's Play

The stage adaptation draws most of its material from the original film. Most of the main characters are intact. Charlie and his poverty stricken family comprise the first half of this 70 minute play. Willy Wonka’s tour with the bratty kids and their ill-mannered parents takes up the remaining half.

The best part of the show is watching each obnoxious child get their comeuppance:

  • Augustus Gloop exercises gluttony. He devours as much chocolate as possible until he falls into a flowing river of fudge.
  • Violet Beauregarde ceaselessly chews bubble gum. Worse than that, she disobeys instructions and eats a top-secret gum and then inflates into a giant blueberry.
  • Veruca Salt shouts her famous line, “I want an Oompa-Loompa now, Daddy!” She is the ultimate spoiled brat, and her greed becomes her undoing when she slides down the “Bad Nut Chute.” (The stage adaptation features the book’s original squirrels instead of the movie’s giant geese.)

    Mike Teevee is obsessed with television, video games, and computers. Of all the “dysfunctional” characters, his vice seems to be the most relevant to today’s culture. His fixation with television leads to his undoing as well. He shrinks himself just so he can be on T.V. But if you think about it, that’s less humiliating than what most American Idol contestants go through!

After each child experiences a harsh life lesson, the Oompa Loompas enter the stage and sing their wonderfully self-righteous songs. They provide the most entertaining musical numbers in the show.

Something's Missing...

Some elements of the original musical have been removed for the sake of time. The mother character does not sing her slow and rather boring ballad, “Cheer Up Charlie.” That’s a nice improvement. However, three major revisions hurt this show:

A) The relationship between Grandpa Joe and Charlie is not as strong in this slimmed down version. Ol’ Joe gets some funny lines in, but the bond between grandfather and grandson has lost the endearing touch found in the original.

B) Slugworth, the devious candy-recipe stealing rival, is not mentioned in this version. In the original film, Slugworth tempted Charlie and the other children by offering them untold wealth if they stole the secret of Wonka’s Ever-lasting Gobstopper. This sub-plot helps to build the tension, and makes Charlie's character even more trust-worthy when he remains loyal to Willy Wonka.

C) Finally, the actor who plays Willy Wonka also serves as the narrator. In addition, he poses as the neighborhood candyman (and sings the show’s most catchy tune). These multiple roles diminish the mystery of Willy Wonka’s character. It becomes immediately clear that he favors Charlie, thereby squelching the suspense. Also missing are Wonka’s irreverently witty sayings. And for some reason they omitted my favorite line: “The Snozzberries taste like Snozzberries!”

The Bottom Line

Despite these set backs, the show still manages to capture some of the story’s magic. It also makes audience members incredibly hungry for chocolate. There are lots of speaking parts for the young performers, and even if you wind up getting cast in the chorus, it’s not such a bad thing. After all, who wouldn’t want to be an Oopma-Loompa?