Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Christian Borle earned negative reviews upon opening night, but the show is still surviving at the box office.
Musical Adaption Leaves Something to be Desired
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the most beloved stories for children across multiple generations around the world. The tale was first crafted by Roald Dahl as a children’s book published in 1964, and then it was famously adapted into a 1971 film titled Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder. It was also made into a less enduring 2005 film called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Johnny Depp. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before the story became a stage musical on Broadway. However, this inevitability is by no means a guarantor of success. The show has a book by David Greig, with music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman (the songwriting duo behind Catch Me If You Can, Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, and Hairspray). The musical is directed by veteran Broadway helmer Jack O’Brien (The Front Page, It’s Only a Play, Macbeth, The Nance, and so on). To the delight of theatre fans, the role of Willy Wonka is portrayed by Christian Borle, who also appeared earlier this season in Falsettos, received awards recognition for his roles in Something Rotten! and Peter and the Starcatcher, and became known to at-home audiences through his turn in the NBC television show “Smash.” With all of this brand recognition, the show is faring relatively well at the box office, but unfortunately the reviews reveal the show to be more bark than bite.
Critics By and Large Express Disdain and Disappointment
Even with such a heartwarming and proven story as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the musical adaptation failed to reach the bar set by the book and the film. Ben Brantley from The New York Times called it “big but tentative,” remarking that the first act is crammed with exposition, and that even though the second act is somewhat better, it does not provide the sugar rush that one would hope for. David Cote from Time Out New York called the musical joyless, grating, and shapeless, and Robert Kahn from NBC New York relished only in watching the characters die in barbarous ways. Meanwhile, Chris Jones from the Chicago Tribune agreed that there was almost no sweetness to be found in this candy-themed musical. Jeremy Gerard from Deadline was only slightly more sympathetic, explaining that the fresh remake from the UK production of this show did not do it justice.
Box Office Staying Afloat Due to Brand Recognition Alone
With such negative reviews, any other show might have sunk by now. However, many ticketbuyers look no further than the name of a show that they recognize from its previous incarnation, and if they do, they might very well be charmed by the name of an actor that they recognize, such as Christian Borle. Therefore, when other very well reviewed shows this season are flailing, such as A Doll’s House, Part 2 and The Little Foxes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory might very well be around for a while. This past week, the week ending May 7, 2017, the show brought in a weekly gross of $1,165,443, which represents 83.81% of its gross potential. Over the six weeks of the run thus far, the average percentage reached of gross potential has been 87.06%, and the audience has been filled to an average of 98.95% of capacity. The show is not nominated for any Tony Awards at all, although Christian Borle is nominated for Best Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical for the revival of Falsettos in which he performed earlier this season.