Skip to main content

Will My Kid Like ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory?’

A guide to kid-friendly arts in San Diego

A photo from the 2019 touring production of

Photo by Joan Marcus

Above: A photo from the 2019 touring production of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

There are so many things to consider before buying kids a theater ticket. Will they be bored and jiggly in their seat? Is it appropriate? How late will they be staying out? And most important, is the price worth the artistic and cultural education?

In this KPBS/Arts feature, we take a look at artistic events from a family perspective. This month we venture to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to see if the musical is as terrifying as the films.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

When: Plays through Sunday, May 19

Best for ages: 5 and older

Where to park: If you can find a metered spot, remember they run until 8 p.m.; pay lots cost between $10 and $20, or reserve parking online for $8

What to wear: This is the time to break out your rainbow colors and zany accessories. Nice theater outfits are fine, too.

Running time: Two and a half hours, including one 20 minute intermission

Tickets and details:

Synopsis: "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," based on the Roald Dahl book, is about the extremely poor but imaginative Charlie Bucket. He finds a Golden Ticket to tour Willy Wonka's chocolate factory where he meets four revolting children: Augustus the champion eater; Veruca the spoiled ballerina; Violet the champion gum-chewer; and Mike the TV addict. The reclusive (and kind of sadistic) Willy Wonka takes them on a magical tour of his factory, one that's filled with temptations and surprises.

How many times have I seen this same story? Of course, there's the original 1971 movie, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" that's equal parts weird and scary. It starred Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and is still considered the Gold Standard of Wonkas. Then there's Tim Burton's 2005 "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" starring Johnny Depp that is honestly still too creepy for me to think about. And if you're a theater parent, you've likely seen a youth theater production of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," too.

Photo by Joan Marcus

A 2019 photo of the cast of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The kids, except for Charlie, are played by adults.

What's different about this version? What stands out in this show is that all the kids besides Charlie are played by adults. This is so that when each kid meets their gruesome ending, it can be darker and weirder without feeling cruel. There are also new songs, some catchy ("Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka!"), others surprisingly touching ("If Your Father Were Here") and some that are just plain weird ("Vidiots"). Also, it was directed by Tony-winning former Old Globe artistic director, Jack O'Brien.

But are there Ooompa Loompas? Yes, they were designed by puppet artist Basil Twist, and they steal the show. It's hard to explain exactly how they work, but imagine a half-puppet, half-human hybrid with orange hair that can also expertly twirl and tap dance.

Things kids will like: Veruca is a ballerina and performs on pointe shoes, plus there are dancing squirrels; Violet blowing up like a blueberry has a funny conclusion; the special effects of Mike going into and getting out of the TV are clever and surprising; the video projections throughout the show turn the stage into a technicolor wonderland; and did I mention the Oompa Loompas?

Things parents will like: Mike's mom can appreciate a good cocktail.

Photo by Joan Marcus

A photo of Mike Teavee and company from 2019's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Things kids might not like: Charlie's poverty is sometimes played for laughs, especially when he has to buy rotted cabbage for dinner; Willy Wonka is pretty mean for most of the show; four grandparents sharing a bed is never not going to be creepy.

Things parents might not like: Not even cute Oompa Loompas can put these awful kids back together again, so on the way home you may have some explaining to do about death. And bad behavior. At times, the show can feel slick and sanitized.

What if my kid can't sit through a long musical? The first act is all about world-building and can feel slow for younger kids, especially if they already know the story. The second act has all the magic and special effects. If your kid is a lobby roamer, definitely get the wiggles out before intermission.

Buyer beware: You can't buy Wonka bars or any other kind of candy at the official merch booth, but concessions has your usual selection of M&Ms and cookies.

Photo by Joan Marcus

A 2019 photo of Henry Boshart as Charlie Bucket and Noah Weisberg as Willy Wonka.

Make it educational: Because "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" has sold more than 20 million copies and is available in 55 languages, chances are you've already read it. But how much do you know about artist and puppet designer Basil Twist? Here's where you can learn more about his creations.

Now all I want to do is eat sweets: Luckily there are dessert spots near the Civic Theatre, including a Dunkin' Donuts at 225 Broadway; Ghiradelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop at 643 Fifth Ave.; and the most Wonka-like place in town, Extraordinary Desserts at 1430 Union Street.

So, will kids like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?" This show is practically made for children, they will love it. But will you like it? That depends on your patience and a dark sense of humor.


San Diego News Matters podcast branding

KPBS' daily news podcast covering local politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings so you can listen on your morning commute.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.