Willy Wonka Goes To Hollywood (Bowl)

The Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles will host a “live-to-film celebration” of “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” on Nov. 4, which happens to be National Candy Day.

Even the superficial elements of the show are intriguing: “Smell-O-Rama,” the entire cast of Oompa Loompas played by “Weird Al” Yankovic, a live orchestra, DeVotchKa.  Basically, a big-name cast that includes John Stamos, Elle King, and Ingrid Michaelson performing music along with the movie.  That should be enough to bring in the crowd.  Turns out, after getting the details from Richard Kraft of Kraft Engel Management, that’s not even close. The Hollywood Bowl will be digitally mapped with animations by artist SHAG, everybody gets a Golden Ticket, there will be surprises every seven minutes.

The cast is as follows: Stamos plays Willy Wonka, Michaelson plays Charlie’s mom, Giancarlo Esposito (aka Gus Fring of “Breaking Bad”) plays Candy Man, Richard Kind (“Mad About You”) is Grandpa Joe, Elle King is Veruca Salt, and Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things” fame will be Charlie.

The show will wrap with, of course, Annabella Lwin from Bow Wow Wow singing “I Want Candy.”

Will the show tour?  It’s not outside the realm of possibility, and Kraft hinted at big things to come.

So, basically, what’s going on?

Kraft: I started with a team of people doing concert celebrations at the Hollywood Bowl. Not just events where you just show the movie and play the music live, but started introducing singing elements. The first one we did was “Nightmare Before Christmas,” where we got the original cast, including Danny Elfman singing along, throughout the picture. We didn’t know, technically, if we could pull it off but we did.

So we got more ambitious and decided to do “The Little Mermaid” last year. We did that but didn’t use the original cast. I came up with this concept of showing the movie, play the score but, when you get to the song, the movie stops, and out comes a guest star to give their interpretation of the song. It was pretty wacky. Putting this together was like putting together the world’s oddest dinner party.

So you have all these singing roles and think, “What nutty idea would work well for this character?” and the key to it is finding performers who are fans of the original.

So, with “Little Mermaid,” Sara Bareilles always wanted to be Ariel when she was growing up and she said yes immediately. And we were lucky Rebel Wilson was one kid who wanted to grow up being Ursula.

Then we thought, “What movie would be really insane that could be adapted even further?” And Willy Wonka has always been a favorite.  The very first piece of it was the visual.  You think of Willy  Wonka as a kaleidoscopic, freaky 1971 movie that’s just got its own incredibly bizarre visual aesthetic. I wanted to complement that and expand on it.

So I incorporated SHAG. He does this cheeky, retro bachelor pad artwork.  He’s my favorite artist; I collect his original art. I approached him and asked, “How would you like to paint on the largest canvas you’ve ever had?”

– Shag

So he’s created 25 paintings that come to life and we will project them onto the proscenium of the Hollywood Bowl, which is an incredible architectural place to map and project on. The show will have this visual component of original art framing the movie itself and sometimes commenting on it. Sometimes it’s decorative.

The other piece is finding the right singers. Among the weirdest one is who plays the Oompa-Loompas.  It’s not a normal thing and my mind went to Weird Al.  Everyone we approached said yes because everyone is a nutty fan of the original movie. I can safely say that nobody will ask Weird Al to play an Oompa Loompa other than this one show.

Going through it, Candy Man, instead of singing the movie version, this kind of odd English guy in the candy store, the version I remember more is Sammy Davis Jr.’s version. So we asked Giancarlo Esposito. It’s going to be very retro ’70s Sammy Davis-style.

And I also like putting in lots of bells and whistles because I don’t consider them concerts, I consider them celebrations. So I added an opening act that is an old Tom & Jerry cartoon being performed live, which no one in their right mind would have thought of doing.

And “Willy Wonka” itself doesn’t have that much music so, to expand on it, so we’ve added reprises of some of the songs in unexpected ways. The whole point is to not go to watch Willy Wonka, it’s to celebrate.

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What about the Smell-O-Rama?

Oh! You reminded me!  OK, so I knew we had to give the audience Golden Tickets. How can you show up and not get a Golden Ticket? That’s just cruel.

But now that you have a Golden Ticket, what do you do? I remembered the John Waters movie “Polyester” that had a scratch-n-sniff ticket.  I thought, “Oh, if there was ever a time to find out what a snozzberry smells like, this is the time.” So I went through the movie and found six different spots with six different smells. There will be Oompa-Loompa visuals holding up signs to be the countdown for when it’s time to smell the blueberries, basically.

So “Weird Al” will have an Oompa Loompa cast. He’s just the one that’s miked?

Um, we found a variation. The concept is Oompa Loompas are kind of clones of some sort, so we’re finding ways to replicate multiple “Weird Als.”

We don’t want you to reveal all of the surprises, but that’s awesome.

The common denominator among my friends is Wonka. He’s my ultimate hero. I really like an overpacked show.

Switching gears for a second, one of my favorite pieces of casting was Finn Wolfhard (“Stranger Things,” “It”). He reached out wanting to play Charlie. The star of the biggest movie right now is about to play Charlie! I asked him why and he said, “Oh, I’ve been singing ‘I’ve Got A Golden Ticket’ since I was 2 years old.”

How far along is the production?

We open in two weeks so we are deep into rehearsals right now.  John Stamos, whom I used as Chef Louie in “Little Mermaid,” he had a song in it that’s a minute and a half long. So John ran with it. We came up with a bit where he knocked the conductor off the stand and conducted the music with a wooden spoon. I noticed he studied Jerry Lewis movies to figure out how to clown it up as a conductor. So, as Wonka, he’s had so many different rehearsals to work out so many different ideas including how to do the Willy Wonka entrance where he has to tip forward and flip. I said to him, “Promise me you won’t snap your neck at least until the encore.” That would be such a downer if we kill John Stamos.

How much clamor is there to move these productions into other markets?

Great question. The next one that we haven’t announced yet is the first one designed to premiere at the Hollywood Bowl then tour.  You realize you put so much time and effort into it, building these elaborate productions, and they’re only seen over a weekend. The next will be the first touring one.

So where are you based?


I’m from Bakersfield! By the way, John Stamos and I are two largest collector of Disneyland memorabilia other than the Lopez brothers from Fresno – Brook and Robin Lopez, the basketball players. They have a massive Disneyland collection. They do Fresno proud.

So as far as Willy Wonka, there is no way to tour it if the demand was overwhelming?

There’s always a way. What makes this show particularly special would need to be modified. We’ve digitally mapped the Hollywood Bowl. We did it for the last show, which was LaLa Land in concert. That one, we just expanded images from the movie. This one we decided to create original art.

 We really thought you guys would just be running the film in the background and …

Nah. If you think of anything that would be normal, strike it, reverse it!  Wonka is all about misdirection. It was my motto putting together this show that something has to happen that is special every seven minutes. You can’t just start watching a movie, you’ll get lulled into it. this is a celebration; it’s not a screening.

More information is available here.