The musical version of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” boasts some surprising and rewarding flavors, but they never quite add up to the promise of a Wonka Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight or an Everlasting Gobstopper.
Dahl’s classic children’s story follows an impoverished young boy named Charlie Bucket who dreams of becoming a candy maker even though he can only afford to have one candy bar a year. When the long-shuttered chocolate factory near his home reopens, the mysterious owner Willy Wonka promotes a contest in which five golden tickets hidden in candy bars will allow the winners a tour of the factory and a grand prize. The adventure unfolds when four of the greedy, egocentric contestants get their just deserts, while Charlie is modest and generous.
The story was adapted into two films — in 1971 with Gene Wilder, and 2005 with Johnny Depp — that colorfully brought to life the darkness and the impish humor in the text. The musical, presented by Broadway in Boston at the Opera House through Jan. 20, seems slavishly faithful to the original book without exploring the magic and imaginative possibilities available in the theater.
Fortunately, the musical is built primarily around Charlie Bucket, and Rueby Wood — one of three young actors who alternate in the role — delivered such a compelling and transparent performance Wednesday night we could almost forgive some of the show’s other shortcomings. Wood has a strong stage presence, a light, strong voice, and an easy banter with his fellow actors that kept us engaged in his adventure. And although the Oompa Loompas don’t appear until the second act, they are definitely worth the wait.
Four songs from the 1971 film are featured here, with the team of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”) augmenting the score with a dozen more. It’s not easy to live up to “The Candy Man,” “Pure Imagination,” “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket,” and “The Oompa Loompa Song,” but Shaiman and Wittman are most successful with the signature song for the gum-chewing contestant Violet Beauregarde (a wonderfully sassy Brynn Williams), and Mrs. Bucket’s haunting ballad, “If Your Father Were Here.”
Other songs focused on the character descriptions of the other four contestants and didn’t add much fun to the storytelling. Once we enter the chocolate factory tour in Act Two, it’s hard not to be disappointed by the clunky set designs and videos that lamely illustrate a chocolate factory of every kid’s dreams.
Veteran Tony Award-winning director Jack O’Brien (“The Coast of Utopia,” “Hairspray”) inexplicably weighs this musical down with molasses-thick pacing. My 12-year-old companion wondered why “The Candy Man” opened the show and why “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” didn’t end the first act. Excellent questions, especially since that opening number is performed by Willy Wonka (Noah Weisberg) in front of a mostly static skyline set piece, and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” gets swallowed up by two other songs before the first act ends.
The production is brightened by Joshua Bergasse’s choreography, which includes wonderfully clever moves for the Oompa Loompas (and showed puppeteer Basil Twist’s magic touch), and especially for Veruca Salt. Jessica Cohen deserves kudos for playing Salt throughout the show in pointe shoes, and her performance with some oversize squirrels in “Veruca’s Nutcracker Sweet” is a highlight.
Dahl’s children’s books always include a dark and sinister edge balanced by a protagonist with imagination and determination (think “Matilda” and “James and the Giant Peach”). This production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is short on both the dark and the light elements of the story, missing the excitement that is so central to Charlie’s — and Willy’s — journey.
CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
Directed by Jack O’Brien. Music by Marc Shaiman. Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman. Additional songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Book by David Greig. Based on the novel by Raold Dahl. At the Opera House, Boston, through Jan. 20. Tickets from $44.50, 800-982-2787, www.broadwayinboston.comTerry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.