Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Cashing In a Golden Ticket

Veteran actress to appear at Stranahan in production of “Chocolate Factory”

Veteran stage actress Kathy Fitzgerald has a lot of experience getting in on the ground floor of new musicals. She played Shirley Markowitz in the original production of “The Producers.” She played Madame Morrble in “Wicked.” She was Roz in the short-lived Broadway rendition of “9-to-5.”

With her latest role— playing Mrs. Gloop in the national touring production of a new musical version of Roald Dahl’s classic book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”— Fitzgerald has been there from the very beginning. “I’ve actually originated it— before it even went to London, I did all the workshops of it. So I’ve actually been working on this part eight years,” Fitzgerald said.

The national tour of “Charlie” makes a stop at the Stranahan Theatre for a six-day run beginning on March 19. Fitzgerald has performed with the show for the better part of the last year and a half— for ten months on Broadway and six months with the touring production.

Meet Mrs. Gloop

At the very beginning, however, Fitzgerald said she didn’t have the best handle on how to play Mrs. Gloop— the doting mother of compulsive eater Augustus Gloop, the first child to run afoul of Willy Wonka’s wonderful and treacherous factory. It wasn’t until she took a trip with her family to Ireland— and a chance encounter with a German tourist— that it became clear to Fitzgerald who Mrs. Gloop was.

“We took this tour in this town in Ireland, where the Titanic left from. And there was this very tall, very loud German woman on tour, who was really very, very sweet. But I don’t think she realized just how loud she was. And she just kept interrupting the whole tour, interrupting the tour guide, and talking at the top of her lungs. And every time she talked, she laughed. She thought she was hilarious. “And I said, ‘Oh my god, that’s Mrs. Gloop.’ That’s where I found my character.”

An evolving factory

A musical is an ever-evolving piece of art. The show as produced often can have few similarities to the show as it was originally conceived in workshops. That’s certainly true of “Charlie,” which has changed a great deal even between its Broadway run ( with “American Beauty” director Sam Mendes) and its national tour (directed by Tony Award-winner Jack O’Brien). But Fitzgerald’s big song, “More of Him to Love,” has basically stayed the same since the beginning.

“When I’ve done other Broadway shows, like ‘The Producers’, almost nothing changed. So I think the things that actually work, if you have a smart director, which Jack is, you don’t mess with the things that work.”

Now, as this retweaked production of “Charlie” finds its way to audiences across the country, Fitzgerald noted how it’s been well received by audiences— better than the original Broadway production, which garnered mixed reviews with its 2017 debut.

“I actually think it’s been better accepted on the road than on Broadway. On Broadway, there are a lot of naysayers, and a lot of press, and a lot people going into shows not liking it, and we had a lot of that on Broadway. And I think it was a little unfair.

“I think that just telling a simple story ‚— and it’s a sweet story with a lot of heart— I think it’s been much better received on the road.”

The touring production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” will be at the Stranahan Theater from Tuesday, March 19 through Sunday, March 24. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit stranahantheater.com.

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