Sam Mendes’ pull-out-all-the-stops production of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory — which overcame mixed reviews to become a hit at London’s Drury Lane Theatre — is on schedule to arrive in New York next season. But Mendes (whose second James Bond flick, Spectre, is piling up money around the world) has bowed out as director, while continuing as a producer of the musical under his Neal Street Productions banner. The change has led to strong speculation that the show, with a score by the long-running team of Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, will be staged on Broadway by seasoned helmer Jack O’Brien, who navigated Wittman & Shaiman’s Hairspray to hitdom. Neither Goldstein nor anyone associated with the show would comment on that.
Dispelling talk in some quarters that he’d been fired from his own show, Mendes released the following statement today: “I loved directing Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and I’m really proud it’s having such great run at Drury Lane. But I knew I couldn’t marry the time commitment to make a Broadway production with the development of my next projects for Neal Street. So instead I’m continuing to serve as a producer as the show evolves for its new life in the U.S. Caro Newling and I hugely enjoy being part of the Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures team and look forward to this next installment. As such, I’m involved in the process of handing over the keys to the factory and look forward to announcing further news early 2016.”
There’s also no word as to whether Charlie star Douglas Hodge — well-known to Broadway audiences from his Tony-winning turn in a revival of La Cage Aux Folles, as well as Old Times earlier this season — will reprise here; I understand that it’s uncertain.
The second stage-musical adaptation of a Roald Dahl story in recent years, Charlie drew a less enthusiastic response from critics who had hailed the earlier Matilda (which continues in London and New York). Matilda, of courser, is a darker tale palatable for both kids and adults, while Charlie, as veteran critic Michael Billington pointed out in the Guardian, wrote of the production, “All this is testament to Mendes’s skill in masterminding a lavish bonanza of a musical without letting us forget that Dahl’s book is a morality play in which vice is punished and virtue gets its edible reward.”
Paul Taylor, the Independent’s critic, wrote that, “The score by the Hairspray combo of Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman is tuneful and wholly unmemorable (the only song you come out humming is “Pure Imagination” the captivating Newley/Bricusse number borrowed from the 1971 film).”
New York Times critic Ben Brantley conveyed the scale of the show in a mixed-to-negative notice: “Giant Rube Goldberg-like contraptions, landscapes that suggest Disney doing Dalí, elaborate video simulations, costumes that inflate and glow in the dark, automaton squirrels and Jetsons-style robots: the visual spectacle never stops in the second act of this cluttered adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel,” which he called “blindingly flashy.”
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is produced by Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures (Mark Kaufman), Langley Park Productions (Kevin McCormick), Neal Street Productions (Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Caro Newling).