Hold your breath. Make a wish. Now count to three.
Come with me, and you'll be at the first preview of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"!
I have a spy who went under cover as an Oompa Loompa Wednesday night at this new $20 million West End musical from director Sam Mendes.
My little orange friend - not to be confused with my other orange friend, the perpetually tanned producer David Ian - says the first preview clocked in at nearly three hours. The sets aren't finished yet. Still missing is a gigantic glass elevator that's supposed to send Charlie to the top of the Drury Lane Theatre.
Without that effect, the show ends, rather anti- climatically, with Charlie walking up the aisle.
The first act is "a little static" and "gray." It's set in Charlie's drab house and neighborhood and moves sluggishly because of too many plot points (easily fixed with some judicious trimming). But it ends with a flourish - and a fine song by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman - when Willy Wonka first appears.
Douglas Hodge, who won a Tony a few years ago for his delightful turn as the drag queen in "La Cage aux Folles," is still, my spy says, settling into the role. He sings and dances well but so far lacks the cheerful creepiness Johnny Depp brought to the 2005 movie. He could also use a dose of Gene Wilder's enigmatic and eccentric performance in the 1971 version, "Willie Wonka." I adore that old movie, by the way, and I'm happy to hear the stage version makes good use of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's lovely tune, "Pure Imagination."
(The film's hit song - "Candy Man" - isn't in the show.)
Shaiman and Wittman's score is "old-fashioned, chirpy and tuneful," my spy says.
There are plenty of big production numbers, many involving the army of Oompa Loompas. They tap-dance on copper pipes; they ride around on giant squirrels; they roller-skate. There is an "unfortunate" Oompa Loompa disco number that will probably go the way of bell-bottoms by the June 25 opening.
Act 2 is swifter and much brighter than Act 1. The sets are big and colorful, and there is ample use of projections, which, as they did in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Woman in White," can sometimes induce nausea among theatergoers.
My source admires much of the show but says it still needs to find its heart: "It feels cold and mechanical. It needs a little more magic."
Mendes and Co. have plenty of time to tweak and fiddle. My source believes that if they just exercise a little more of their own "pure imagination," they'll have a crowd-pleaser on their hands.
The Drury Lane, by the way, has undergone an $8 million refurbishment. Lloyd Webber owns the historic theater and has restored its grand salon, rotunda and its royal staircases to their original Regency splendor. (Since 1663, four theaters have stood on the spot. This one dates from 1810.)
He also bequeathed to the theater a copy of Canova's "The Three Graces," which he bought last March for $1 million. The statue, which stands in the lobby, will be part of the theater's permanent art collection.
If you're going to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," get there early so you can wander around this magnificent theater.
It just might upstage the show!
Originally published by Michael Riedel.
(c) 2013 The New York Post. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.
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