Actually, the source material is even better known to many as the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in which Gene Wilder plays the wacky confectioner who offers five children the chance to sample his creations. The team of lyricist and librettist Donald Sturrock and composer Peter Ash has provided a delightful score that complements the now-familiar story quite well.
The production also benefits from the snappy stage direction by James Robinson and the work of conductor Timothy Redmond, who leads members of the St. Louis Symphony in fine fashion. The cast is also first-rate, led by opera star Daniel Okulitch (best known for his work in The Fly), who captures the mix of playfulness and wickedness which is the keynote of Willy Wonka.
A delightful little actor, Michael Kepler Meo plays the young boy, Charlie. Although his voice needs a bit more volume, he displays a keen knowledge of the stage and his character. The remaining children in this classic tale are all played by adults and the concept truly works. Tracy Dahl is effective as the gun-toting Violet; Andrew Drost is properly obnoxious as the candy-loving Augustus; and Jennifer Rivera and David Trudgen round out the group of youngsters who meet an untimely demise in the candy factory.
Also on hand are Frank Kelley as Charlie's grandfather and Jennifer Berkebile, who does a great job in the dual role of the TV host and the squirrelmistress. (Don't ask; you have to see it to believe it).
While the production is technically quite ambitious, the candy factory scene in Act II needs some work. Most of the effects rely on projections and they can't quite measure up to what may be an impossible task any other way. The river of chocolate comes off a little clumsily as well. Overall, however, the show is a sweet treat worth savoring.