The Rapidian

Still Scary After All These Years: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Broadway Grand Rapids

Cody Garcia shines as the candy man in the national tour.

/Cast / Courtesy Broadway Grand Rapids

Let's be honest: Charlie might be in the title, but it's Willy Wonka that we love. Sure, he's a little crazy, maybe a lot crazy, and he could stand to be more responsible, in the sense that he doesn't appear to care much if the children in his care actually die; but he's got something all too rare in this fallen world: real charm.

Introduced in Roald Dahl's novel, Wonka was later cemented to the public through Gene Wilder's cotton-candy-and-acid portrayal in the movie (Jonny Depp later played him, too; he tried his best, but, well, you know). Generations of children grew up thrilled by, and terrified of, the candy impresario. Rightly so: the man could make gum that tasted like a three-course meal, but he could also stand by while you turned into a giant blueberry - and then popped.

We love the guy. So it's with delight that I tell you this: Cody Garcia, currently touring as Wonka, is wonderful in the part. He's bold, brilliant, funny; he has Wonka's aloof condescension down pat, as well as his slightly terrifying flights of fancy. Without a great Wonka, the show fails; with Garcia, it succeeds admirably.

In the first half of the show, Wonka's a relatively muted presence, in disguise as the owner of a small candy store. The bulk of the first act is expository, situating Charlie Bucket in his materially impovishered but mostly happy world. Brody Bett plays Charlie well, nailing his precocity and his dreaminess. In the show's most moving scene, his mother (played by Caitlin Lester-Sams) sings to him of his absent dad, in "If Your Father Were Here."

There's a lot here, but it moves speedily enough. We see excerpts from the news, as the first four golden ticket winners are revealed in humorous numbers. Charlie is number five, as we knew he would be, and by the end of the act the children are gathered at the entrance of Wonka's factory. "It must be believed to be seen," Wonka sings in an elegant reversal, and tension and excitement come to a head.

The second half are when things really start moving. There are four children to get rid of, after all, and they're gotten rid of in pretty spectacular ways: Violet Beauregarde's explosion was really something, but poor Veruca Salt! I could hardly believe what I was seeing. The effects are largely great, including shrunken Mike Teavee, and the end works. 

If the show stumbles, it's in not always delivering music as strong as the visuals or the performances; most of the memorable melodies come from the first film. Still, it's a peppy, impressive show. It must be believed to be seen. 

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