Expectations for Broadway’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory have already smashed through the glass ceiling, and choreographer Joshua Bergasse intends to deliver.
“I think people are expecting magic,” says the Tony-nominated choreographer. “We’re trying to deliver that in an honest way so that it all makes sense.”
For Bergasse, that means starting with the story and its characters—and what a cast of over-the-top caricatures he has to work with. Among them, the gluttonous Augustus Gloop, commanding Veruca Salt, attention-craving Violet Beauregarde, and superficial Mike Teavee and their parents. In this production of Roald Dahl’s children’s novel of the same name, songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman bring to life each of these four bratty golden ticket winners with their own celebrational number. Bergasse “used their music as my roadmap,” to find and infuse routines with an outlandish Willy Wonka feel, first tackling Augustus’ song, “More of Him to Love,” on his way to discovering the movement style for the entire musical.
“I just started looking around and researching and I found this Bavarian folk dance, this slap dance that’s really outrageous,” says Bergasse of creating the German feel for the Gloops. “Then somehow a cuckoo clock came up, so we were like, ‘What if they were in a cuckoo clock?’ That zaniness kind of set the tone of what the rest of what [the Golden Ticket numbers] would be and what the show really is.”
Even after finding the key to the show’s style, choreographing Charlie was not without unexpected challenges. “The hard part of it was that at the same time we wanted to make a great number for each of them, we had to make them unlikeable,” says Bergasse. “One of the hardest ones was Violet, because the song is so good. When we first did it, everybody loved the number and her so much and I realized that can’t be. They can’t be rooting for her; you have to think she’s awful.”
But not all of Bergasse’s dance possessed such opposing forces; he had a ton of fun creating the infamous Oompa Loompas and he added in a gentle ballet for Charlie’s hardworking mother in her song “If Your Father Were Here.”
“That was [director] Jack [O’Brien]’s idea,” says Bergasse. “We were going through the script and he said, ‘What if there’s a dance here? What if the ghost of Charlie’s father comes back?’ And I loved it.” In one of the most touching moments of the show, Charlie’s parents dance together but never touch, as Bergasse suggests through movement that Mrs. Bucket’s memory of her husband may be too much for her.
The story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has always been one of excitement, bubbling with tenderness beneath the surface. When it comes to Bergasse and his creation, this balance of thoughtful and comical, graceful and explosive hits the sweet spot.