There can be some sweet perks for cast members of Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, as actor James Young discovered when the touring production recently played Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“Myself, Charlie, and Willy Wonka were presented with a 5-lb. Hershey bar,” says Young, who plays Grandpa Joe in the production. “But we all have to share it.”
Young wanted to audition for the fanciful musical because he grew up watching the iconic 1971 movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The show, which opens at Altria Theater September 17, follows that film version “pretty closely,” he says, adding it also stays pretty true to the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Dahl.
The musical tells the story of Charlie, a young man who has wonderful dreams but comes from a family of poor means. He grows up fascinated with the chocolate factory in town, which is run by the quirky Willy Wonka. “The show is about Charlie finding his dreams, the people he meets along the way, and how he demonstrates the importance of family,” Young says.
Young is enjoying playing Grandpa Joe who used to work at the factory. “He is such a wonderful loving grandfather,” Young says of Joe. “All of his dreams are wrapped up in Charlie.”
Charlie and Grandpa Joe have a close bond, he adds. “Charlie confides all of his dreams in Grandpa. And for Grandpa, the sun rises and sets in Charlie.”
Grandpa Joe is a man who believes in the magic of the world, finding your creative spirit and using your imagination. Young knows a lot about creativity in his own life. His 43-year career includes several Broadway shows and touring productions as well as work on television and in film.
He discovered his love of acting when he attended the College of Marin in California. His first student show was Fiddler on the Roof. Fellow college mates in the production included the legendary Robin Williams and Dakin Matthews, now appearing on Broadway in To Kill a Mockingbird.
“I knew nothing about theatre at that point, and needless to say I got quite an education,” Young says. “Rehearsals were awful because we would be in hysterics when Robin was improvising. It was shortly after that that Robin went to Juilliard.”
Young landed his first Broadway role in A Chorus Line in 1980. “Over the years, I have been exceedingly lucky. I’ve had a lot of neat experiences,” he says.
At sixty-five, Young is having a blast working with the three young actors that play Charlie in the touring production. He’s amazed the young actors can carry an entire show at their age. “They do it exceedingly well,” he says. “They all support each other.”
While the show sticks close to the 1971 production, it does have some new songs from the songwriters of Hairspray along with everyone’s favorites – “Pure Imagination,” “The Candy Man” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket.”
The production is bright and cheery thanks to the 2.3 million LED lights that have been added. Another bright spot in the show: the Oompa-Loompas (factory workers from Oompa-Loompa land). “They are amazing,” Young says.
For Young, the show has been both fun and challenging. “I’ve had a wonderful time working with the kids. The challenging part is the physicality at my age,” he says. “I was and still am a dancer, but I don’t kick my legs up as high now. Touring can also be hard. That’s a young person’s game.”
The musical isn’t just a kid’s show. It’s for the entire family, he adds. “There is some very adult humor.”
The real message it sends – to care for one another, communicate with one another and believe in one another – is universal. “The overall message is love, sharing and understanding,” Young says.
Roald Dahl’s Charlie And The Chocolate Factory runs September 17 through September 22 at Altria Theater. For showtimes and tickets, visit Broadway in Richmond.
Amanda Rose as Mrs. Bucket, James Young as Grandpa Joe, Rueby Wood as Charlie and the cast of Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Photo by Joan Marcus.