Telling Great Stories On Stage

As I write this, we are in the final stages of rehearsing our 2022 Middle School Musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Many will come to see the show as parents, siblings or friends of the cast, band or crew. Whilst it is terrific to see students performing wonderfully on stage, it is always our hope that it is the power of the story that grabs the attention of the audience and carries them through the performance.

At the heart of every good piece of music theatre is a strong story, with many shows confronting significant issues. For example, Fiddler On the Roof (MS musical 2007) and Hairspray (2014) both dealt with racial discrimination. Ragged Child (2002), Les Miserables (2009) and Oliver! (2010 and 2017) dealt with issues of equality, class and treatment of the poor. Strictly Ballroom (2021) questioned the need to always ‘play the game’ and Matilda (2019), another of Roald Dahl’s great stories, dealt with bullying.

Productions of musicals today are increasingly technically sophisticated. There may be as many persons backstage as onstage, and there are often high levels of technology used in the productions, with complex sound, dazzling lighting and automated scenic elements, video and special effects. Even though most shows still have live musicians (who are sometimes completely hidden from view) often the live playing is supplemented by a backing track with vocal and synthesized sounds. The vast array of available performance technology can often overwhelm the audience, causing the story to almost become lost through a sea of attention, grabbing dazzling effects. At one extreme we have productions like King Kong which played at the Regent a few years ago and almost resembled a theme park experience rather than a musical. At the simpler end we have wonderful shows like Come from Away where the band and cast are all on stage sharing multiple roles with a simplicity that allows the strength of the narrative to shine though so clearly.

In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory we witness some quite over the top self-absorbed children and their parents. Roald Dahl has taken Dickensian techniques of creating somewhat overblown characters all aptly named - for example the Beauregards and the Teavees - and then pushing them to extremes, providing also a wonderful contrast with the modestly and honesty of Charlie Bucket and his family. The writers who adapted the story as a musical have added some very contemporary references, particularly relating to our current obsession with the digital world.

We hope you will come and witness Charlie’s journey with us. Whilst our production will certainly be colourful, we sincerely hope that you will become deeply engaged with one of literatures great stories.

Martin Arnold
Head of Middle School Music