Pure Imagination: 'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory' Brings Willy Wonka To The StagePlay
The Broadway musical "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" is currently touring the country. It's based on the much-loved book by Roald Dahl about a little boy who wins a tour of a wondrous chocolate factory run by Willy Wonka, a reclusive candy inventor.
Many people know the story from the 1971 movie "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," starring Gene Wilder — one that Noah Weisberg, who stars as Wonka in the stage production, says he loved to watch growing up. That meant that when the time came to take on the role, Weisberg had a decision to make: try to live up to Wilder's iconic performance, or put his own spin on Wonka.
He tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson he chose the latter.
"I just thought, it's going to be more fun to do my own version," Weisberg (@NoahWeisberg) says. "Actors that I admire, I kind of did what they do, which is I bring myself to the role — so in the context of being Willy Wonka and the costume and his mannerisms and physicality, but it's just me exposing my insecurities, my joy, my anger and exploring those onstage."
The show features a few modern twists on the movie version beloved by viewers: The character of Mike Teavee, one of the five children who enters Wonka's factory, is addicted to Adderall in addition to being obsessed with television. Another of the five, the spoiled Violet Beauregarde, is a social media celebrity.
Despite these tweaks, the story's timeless takeaway remains in tact, Weisberg says.
"I think especially in our version, the message is that truth and kindness and selflessness is what wins," he says.
On being inspired by Wilder's performance in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"
"I grew up loving the Gene Wilder movie, and I actually never saw the Johnny Depp movie. So I decided not to rewatch the Gene Wilder movie, because first of all, he's genius, and I can't be him. And also, it's a movie, which means the camera can be two inches from your face, and he can raise his eyebrow and you're like, 'The emotion!' You can't do that onstage. ...
"The interesting thing is I've had people come to the stage door that don't know me, and they say, 'Wow, you've got this Gene Wilder quality.' I'm like, 'That's really lucky, because [it's] not intentional. But I'll take it.' And I think what it does is it makes people connect to the character because it's really me up there."
On making the famous song "Pure Imagination" his own
"Well, I have the benefit of being surrounded by awesome actors, really great, well-trained actors onstage. What I do is I just sing to them, and I look at these real human beings — yeah and they're playing characters, but they're my friends now — and I look at them, and especially little Charlie, who's an actual 11-year-old boy, and I just think, 'Gosh, if we could just get rid of this judgment that we all carry around, this third eye that judges ourselves, what if you could just change the world? It's so possible.' So I just look at my friends onstage and encourage them to do what I wish I could do."
On the themes of kindness and selflessness in the story, reflected by the character Charlie Bucket
"You have five kids that go through this factory — two or four of them are bratty and out for themselves, and one kid, Charlie, is not. [He's] very poor, just so happy to have this experience. He's not trying to steal candy or get attention or fame from it. He's just spending time with his grandfather who hasn't been out of a bed in 40 years and they're having this great adventure.
"There's a reason why Charlie Bucket wins the contest at the end, and I think that's also the reason why he connects with Willy, because I think of Willy as just this child. So there's that innocence and they connect. And within that innocence, sometimes that's why, Willy, people think of him as this crazy guy who can scream one second, 'Don't touch this!' And then a second later be like, 'All right, on to the next room.' Because that's what we do as kids: You're having the best time, suddenly your mom takes away your toy and you're just enraged, and then hands you something, a little piece of candy or something, and you go, 'Oh, I'm fine again.' Because there aren't any veneers up. You're just purely yourself."
Emiko Tamagawa produced this interview, and edited it for broadcast with Mark Navin. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.
This segment aired on January 15, 2019.