Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Kids' Lit

So, this month I saw The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical  off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Broadway.

For both shows, I had front row seats.  This was much more fun for The Lightning Thief, where the first few rows get doused with giant pieces of glitter and streams of "water" symbolized by (happily clean and dry) toilet paper.   By contrast, at the Willy Wonka show, a front center seat merely meant that occasionally the tilt of the stage prevented me from seeing everything clearly.

Percy Jackson was an unmitigated delight. The teenage angst element could easily have been overdone, but they kept it in check.  It worked.   I loved Sally's song "Strong" - she belted it out and moved me to tears.  Creative use of barebones scenery and props gave the show a scrappy energy suitable to the subject matter, and the actors and actresses were likewise versatile in their multiple roles.  I especially loved the actor playing Chiron, who used relatively subtle shifts in posture and musculature to give the right sense of horsiness to his centaur without a full-fledged costume.  (The puppeteers in War Horse at Lincoln Center did something similar too, to good effect - although that required coordination among multiple performers.)

As for Willy Wonka, my feelings are more mixed.  The boy playing Charlie Bucket was quite winsome, and I really liked the early scenes establishing his home life and poverty as well as Mr. Wonka's apparent heartlessness.  Other than Augustus Gloop, the Golden Ticket winners were nicely updated, I thought, and many of their trials were well realized.  The squirrels (BAD Nut!) were great, and the Oompah-Loompahs were performed hilariously with puppets. So much of it worked, that it was actually a little surprising to find it a bit flat at the end.  Perhaps I just didn't buy the sudden familial warmth between Wonka and Charlie, or maybe it seemed creepy to have such warmth suddenly switched on, highlighted and foregrounded while Charlie's well-established loving family is nowhere to be seen.  (Yes, Wonka says they've been settled in the factory.  But we don't see them.  They don't share in this moment; they're not there to share Charlie's triumph or to protect him from this grown man who has granted all the boy's wishes in one fell swoop.)

No comments: