‘A Little Ridiculousness’: WAC offers golden ticket to confectionery fun

‘A Little Ridiculousness’: WAC offers golden ticket to confectionery fun

“Do you know the story at all?” Walton Arts Center Vice President of Programming and Executive Producer Scott Galbraith couldn’t resist this cheeky quip way back in the spring of 2020 (in the before times) as he prepared to discuss a well-known name making its Arkansas Broadway debut in the coming season.

Cody Garcia

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a new musical that “borrows evenly and faithfully from three major precedents in terms of storytelling,” Galbraith said. And those literary and cinematic roots, lush visuals and over-the-top characters make it the perfect introduction to Broadway for younger audience members and the whole family.

“I’ve always loved the show because I feel like it’s in some ways about parenting,” offers Cody Garcia, starring as the factory’s eccentric and larger-than-life owner and head candymaker, Willy Wonka.

“I feel like parenting is just a very important, not necessarily widely discussed thing that we need to address, really, as a society,” Garcia continues. “And there are so many parents that spoil their kids, or let their kids watch TV 24/7. Or let them chew gum (gagging noise). No, I’m kidding. Or whatever. It’s a nice little allegory, and it’s a nice modern day fairy tale that is beneficial to interpret yourself, I guess. And what I take from it is the importance of family and, specifically, the relationship between a mother and father and their child.”

First introduced in Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel, Charlie Bucket is one of five lucky children who win a chance to tour the world-famous Wonka Chocolate Factory after it has been closed to the public for years.

The children explore the factory’s wonderland of confectionery creations that seem to defy logic, meet Wonka’s workforce of Oompa-Loompas and get into a few (maybe dangerous) antics along the way. Looking back, Garcia remembers being scarred by one scene in particular.

“I saw a stage version of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ when I was a kid… [at] some community theater in San Antonio, Texas, and I obviously was terrified when Violet turned into a blueberry,” Garcia says of the darkly comedic fate befalling one of the tour’s less-than-angelic guests. “Then at the end, when all the actors came out to bow, Violet Beauregarde did not come out to bow. And I don’t remember this, but my mother told me that I was just freaking out. I was just like, ‘Oh my God, she’s a blueberry!’

“Apparently, the girl who played Violet had another gig to get to so she just dipped out of bows for that show. But my mother definitely was like, ‘OK, you have to make sure that Violet bows because the children are going to freak out just like my son’” during the Broadway tour, Garcia shares.

Violet Beauregarde is not the only visitor to have her factory tour cut unexpectedly short, leaving some modern audiences to wonder whether a factory owner with such seemingly lax safety protocols is perhaps the villain of the story. Garcia won’t confirm either way.

“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” makes its Arkansas debut at the Walton Arts Center Nov. 30. The new musical features fan-favorite songs from the original film, including “Pure Imagination,” “The Candy Man” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket,” alongside a toe-tapping and ear-tickling new score from the songwriters of “Hairspray.” (Courtesy Photo/Walton Arts Center)

“How do I phrase this? ‘I am bad. And that’s good. I’ll never be good. And that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be than me,’” Garcia says coyly, quoting the maybe-villain/maybe-hero of the Disney animated film “Wreck It Ralph.” “I don’t think it’s up to me to give an answer to that question; I think it’s up for the interpretation of whoever sees the story.”

It’s all in good fun, though, and certainly nothing too traumatic for little ones. In fact, Galbraith wonders if children might not connect acutely with Charlie’s perspective in the stage version compared to the 1971 Gene Wilder- or 2005 Johnny Depp-led film interpretations of the story.

“What’s interesting is there’s really only one kid in it; the other kids are played by young adult actors,” he reveals. “So Charlie’s situation and plight is more fully realized than in some of the other versions because he is unique. I think that allows kids in the audience to really identify with Charlie in a way they haven’t before — which, for kids, is a very important part of their experience of the show.”

As for any lessons they’ve taken from the chocolatier, Garcia is reminded of “some of the best advice I ever got when I was a kid was, ‘If you feel stupid, you’re doing it right.’ And that is just something that I’ve incorporated into all aspects of my life, especially growing up,” Garcia shares. “A little ridiculousness goes a long way.”



Roald Dahl’s

‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’

WHEN — 8 p.m. Dec. 3; 2 & 8 p.m. Dec. 4; 2 p.m. Dec. 5

WHERE — Walton Arts Center, 495 W. Dickson St. in Fayetteville

COST — $41-$102

INFO — 443-5600, waltonartscenter.org; charlieontour.com

FYI — Masks are required inside the venue for all patrons.

Categories: Theater