Theater Review: ‘Willy Wonka’

By Alan Bresloff
Alan Bresloff
Alan Bresloff
July 30, 2008 Updated: October 1, 2015

Summer fun for the family

The talented Sean Fortunato in the role of  Willy Wonka, candy store owner extraordinaire. (Liz Lauren)
The talented Sean Fortunato in the role of Willy Wonka, candy store owner extraordinaire. (Liz Lauren)
CHICAGO—Navy Pier is a summer delight for local residents and, of course, for all the tourists who visit. It offers fireworks every Wednesday and Saturday nights, the Beer Garden, the restaurants, the amusement park and boat rides, the Cirque Shanghai and, of course, the award winning Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (CST). Each summer CST presents a musical and this year, it’s a stage version of the 1971 film, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, (itself based on the book by Roald Dahl.)

The movie featured music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Mr. Bricusse and Tim McDonald created the stage adaptation. This new version is a bit shorter (roughly 70 minutes with no intermission) and the factory tour has been changed so that only the children are allowed in.

The Bucket family are down on their luck, but a happy, honest family. Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory has been closed to the public although their candy is still being sold. The company makes a special announcement that five tickets will be found in Wonka Candy Bars wrappers and each of the winners will get to tour the factory and get candy for life.

Among the five winners is our hero, Charlie Bucket—Patrick Andrews (with just the right touch of "boyish charm") who gets the very last golden ticket. The first four are won by Violet Beauregarde (Melanie Brezill), Veronica Salt (Jessie Mueller), Mike Teavee (Travis Turner) and Augustus Gloop (George Andrew Wolff); each of these children breaks a rule at the factor,y and each one pays the consequences for doing so. Charlie also breaks a rule but manages to see the error of his way and correct it, so he alone gets the happy ending.

Director Joe Leonardi has put together a top-notch cast to bring the colorful characters to life. It is hard to believe from the activity on the stage at CST that there are only eight actors putting on this character-filled story, but Mr. Leonardi and choreographer Stacey Flaster (at every theater of late) make it work!—this on a dynamite set by Alan Edward Schwanke, aided by the adorable costumes of Alison Siple.

But ultimately the show relies on Willy Wonka's character being strong and funny. Here the very talented Sean Fortunato (who can do most anything), has like, Gene Wilder in the movie version, not the strongest singing voice, but he stays on tune and more importantly stays in character. He is truly fun to watch.

With the exception of Andrews and Fortunato, all of the actors play many other roles, including working as puppeteers (a charming bit of play with Charlie's grandparents).

Mark David Kaplan and Paula Scrofano round out the cast.

There is a lot of magic in this story and a lesson in morals, but the most important part of the show is that it’s fun for families (with children 5 and older).

Willy Wonka
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre at Navy Pier
Tickets:  312-595-5600 or online at
Closes: Aug. 17

Alan Bresloff writes theater reviews in and around Chicago.

Alan Bresloff
Alan Bresloff