by Genevieve Miller Holt
For more than 50 years, readers and movie audiences have been fascinated with the peculiar and delightful characters Roald Dahl created in his book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the subsequent iterations on film in the 1971 and 2005 adaptations. A few years ago, the classic story about a boy whose fates change when he wins the chance to meet the famed Willy Wonka got a new life when it was adapted as a Broadway stage musical, to the delight of London and New York audiences. That new Broadway production is now headed out for a national tour.
“This show is an amazing combination of all the different Charlie and the Chocolate Factory incarnations,” says original Broadway cast member Stephanie Gibson, “so whether you’re a fan of the book or one or the films, you will find so much to love.” Gibson, a 2007 graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), originated the role of Cherry Sundae in the Broadway production. Cherry is the kooky on-the-scene television reporter who follows the kids in the story as they discover their golden tickets, and Gibson – whose musical comedy credits also include the Broadway productions of Spamalot and The Addams Family – got to use her comic chops in the outlandish role.
During her run in the show, Gibson loved feeling the reactions from the audience. “The way the show is written appeals to many generations, so it’s always fun to witness each night what jokes people really tune in to, which changes night tonight.” And there are some unforgettable elements in the show that Gibson says the audience cheers night after night. “There are moments in the show you are expecting, but there are also lots of moments in this show that the audience is definitely not expecting. One of those is when we meet the Oompa Loompas. I promise you, you’ve never seen anything quite like this before.”
But she also knows that what makes this show so special is its perfect sweet-and-sour blend of heart and comedy. “It’s a story of hope, family, and love, but it’s also super silly. In that way, it really is perfect for all ages, all walks of life. Of course, it appeals to children, but it’s also for the adults – it’s so smartly written and the music is incredible. I hear it over and over from adults who brought their children to the show: ‘I didn’t expect to laugh like that!’”
There is something universal in Charlie’s story, and Wonka’s too, and that’s what really works, says Gibson. “Everyone can relate to the struggle of wanting something so badly, and the search for happiness. We see that clearly in Charlie’s path, but we also learn that Wonka himself, although he’s the hero, is also on a search for happiness and what he wants in the world. Charlie teaches Wonka, just as Wonka teaches Charlie. It’s a beautiful and heartfelt story, and I guarantee you’ll be having a bit of an emotional moment at the end of the show.”
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY plays the Aronoff Center October 23 – November 4, 2018 as part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway in Cincinnati series presented by TriHealth.