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"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is a sweet treat at Detroit Opera House
As the lights dim before "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," the voice of Brody Bett, who plays Charlie Bucket, cautions attendees to turn off their cell phones and not take photos or record during the performance.
But he also offers a welcome caveat: "You can eat as much candy as you want!"
And that's exactly what we get with the stage musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's famed 1964 novel, at the Detroit Opera House through March 1. Already the source for two hit movies, "Charlie" on stage is a non-stop confection that maintains a steady stream of sweetness even during its oddest moments. It's feel-good from the first notes of "The Candy Man," and the combination of David Greig's book and March Shaiman and Scott Wittman's songs strike a near-perfect balance of heartstring-pulling sentiment and broad wackiness.
The story is well-known, but the musical adds enough new flavors to insure it's as satisfying as an Everlasting Gobstopper -- or even a Fizzy Lifter drink (which, by the way, you can buy at the Opera House bars).
The stage "Charlie" hews close to Dahl's book and the "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" film, with Cody Garcia, as Wonka, much more Gene Wilder than Johnny Depp. It's contemporized, however, with hip, rapid pacing, a glitzy, video-enhanced production and touches of the times: Violet Beauregarde (Zakiya Baptiste) is still a marathon gum chewer but also a social media sensation with a helicopter dad (Branden R. Mangan) capturing footage; and Mike Teavee's (Matthew Boyd Snyder) obsession is handheld gadgets, though television proves to be his ultimate undoing, while his mother (Katie Fay Francis) is a suburban slave to the bottle.
Amidst all that, however, porky Augustus Goop (Sam St. Jean) and his mother (Audrey Belle Adams) score old school style with their sausage song-and-dance number "More of Him to Love."
And while it would be too much of a spoiler to reveal exactly how the Oompa Loompas, held for "Charlie's" second act, are staged, rest assured that it's clever and inventive and that the mildly macabre minions light up the show every time they appear.
The lanky Garcia convincingly captures Wonka's balance of eccentricity and insecurity with sharp, taut timing, but he's equaled by Betís Charlie. The youth is a scene-stealer who plays his part with exuberance of someone who came to see the show and just happened to end up on stage. Every expression of joy, despair and exasperation seems genuine and played up just enough to fill the room.
Charlie's four bed-bound grandparents have winning moments as the musical's kind of Greek chorus. Troy's Caitlin Lester-Sams, meanwhile, scores the heart-rending moments during the first act -- particularly during a brief dance with Charlie's late dad during "If Your Father Were Here."
And "Charlie" is, in the end, all about heart and, as Willy Wonka reminds us, "Pure Imagination." It's as delicious in 2020 as it ever was, and one time that as much candy as you want is truly good for the soul.
"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" runs through March 1 at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. $29 and up. 313-961-3500 or broadwayindetroit.com.
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