Willy Wonka Jr. is published by Broadway Jr., a company with a very clever idea. They offer condensed and “cleaned up” versions of popular musicals such as Into the Woods and Guys and Dolls. Some of the “extraneous” production numbers are cut, and the dialogue is substantially trimmed. The average show’s running time is under 80 minutes. The result is a kid-friendly, easy-to-produce show, suitable for young performers.
The downside: all of the trimming and revising can remove some of the heartfelt elements of the musical. Case in point: Willy Wonka Jr.
Ultimately, the remake is quirky and visually hypnotic, but not as satisfying as the 1971 classic. Wilder’s manic performance exceeds Johnny Depp’s quietly eerie Wonka by miles. But enough about the movies, how does the Broadway Jr. version hold up?
The Children's Play
- Augustus Gloop exercises gluttony. He devours as much chocolate as possible until he falls into a flowing river of fudge.
- Violet Beauregarde ceaselessly chews bubble gum. Worse than that, she disobeys instructions and eats a top-secret gum and then inflates into a giant blueberry.
- Veruca Salt shouts her famous line, “I want an Oompa-Loompa now, Daddy!” She is the ultimate spoiled brat, and her greed becomes her undoing when she slides down the “Bad Nut Chute.” (The stage adaptation features the book’s original squirrels instead of the movie’s giant geese.)
Mike Teevee is obsessed with television, video games, and computers. Of all the “dysfunctional” characters, his vice seems to be the most relevant to today’s culture. His fixation with television leads to his undoing as well. He shrinks himself just so he can be on T.V. But if you think about it, that’s less humiliating than what most American Idol contestants go through!
After each child experiences a harsh life lesson, the Oompa Loompas enter the stage and sing their wonderfully self-righteous songs. They provide the most entertaining musical numbers in the show.
A) The relationship between Grandpa Joe and Charlie is not as strong in this slimmed down version. Ol’ Joe gets some funny lines in, but the bond between grandfather and grandson has lost the endearing touch found in the original.
B) Slugworth, the devious candy-recipe stealing rival, is not mentioned in this version. In the original film, Slugworth tempted Charlie and the other children by offering them untold wealth if they stole the secret of Wonka’s Ever-lasting Gobstopper. This sub-plot helps to build the tension, and makes Charlie's character even more trust-worthy when he remains loyal to Willy Wonka.
C) Finally, the actor who plays Willy Wonka also serves as the narrator. In addition, he poses as the neighborhood candyman (and sings the show’s most catchy tune). These multiple roles diminish the mystery of Willy Wonka’s character. It becomes immediately clear that he favors Charlie, thereby squelching the suspense. Also missing are Wonka’s irreverently witty sayings. And for some reason they omitted my favorite line: “The Snozzberries taste like Snozzberries!”