Both shows are lumbering follow-ups to movies, with some numbers from the big-screen versions still attached. Both are staged by directors with distinguished résumés — Jack O’Brien for “Charlie,” Darko Tresnjak for “Anastasia” — working from scores by songwriting partnerships with deep Broadway roots. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”) contribute the score for “Charlie” (with some tunes, including “Candy Man,” by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley from the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”). Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (“Ragtime”) wrote the film and stage songbooks for “Anastasia.”
Although they share estimable pedigrees, the musicals fail in different ways. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” from the 1964 Roald Dahl novel, imagines itself cleverly subversive, but it’s just a shrill and nasty cartoon. The production labors under the illusion that killing off irritating children in a candy factory is hilarious, when instead it comes across as one indulgent act of mean-spiritedness. A protracted Act 1 in which little Wonka-worshiping Charlie (Ryan Foust, one of three young actors alternating in the role) wins one of the golden tickets to tour Willy’s factory, gives way in Act 2 to what can only be described as sugarcoated grand guignol. The funny business includes drowning in chocolate a child who would have been better directed to a meeting of Overeaters Anonymous.
Borle wears a disconcerted look throughout much of the proceedings, as if he just finished a meal that didn’t agree with him. I like to think he, too, wonders what he’s doing there.
“Anastasia,” based loosely on the 1997 animated movie of the same title, isn’t quite as tone- deaf. It’s just dull. Legend has it that when Czar Nicholas was executed along with his wife and children in the wake of the Russian Revolution, one daughter, Anastasia (played here blandly by Christy Altomare) survived. Terrence McNally’s book posits the revolutionary government as fearful of a potential heiress to the monarchy reappearing and rallying the populace, and so sends Karimloo’s Gleb to eliminate her. Anastasia, meanwhile, suffering from total memory loss, is recruited (coincidentally) by a pair of good-natured scammers (Derek Klena and John Bolton) who school her in royal behavior, in an effort to present her in Paris as Anastasia to the grieving Dowager Empress (Mary Beth Peil).
Except she really is Anastasia. For almost certain. (Spoiler alert: Whether she is or not, the musical never makes you care.)
Russia in the years after the Communist takeover apparently was not only haggard and poverty-ridden; it also was afflicted with permanent cloudy weather. Because there’s just one dark day after another in the desultory St. Petersburg of “Anastasia.” Only when Anastasia and her confederates reach Paris — the City of Light — do Alexander Dodge’s sets brighten. The show, though, has few illuminating ideas of its own: At various times, the musical interludes remind you of better moments in “My Fair Lady,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Les Miz.” Not even my daughter, who loved the movie version as a child, fell for the tortured make-believe mechanics of this “Anastasia.”
Anastasia, book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Directed by Darko Tresnjak. Choreography, Peggy Hickey; music direction, Tom Murray; orchestrations, Doug Besterman; sets, Alexander Dodge; costumes, Linda Cho; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Peter Hylenski; projections, Aaron Rhyne. With John Bolton, Caroline O’Connor, Mary Beth Peil. About 2 hours 35 minutes. $69-$352. At Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St., New York. Visit telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, book by David Grieg; music by Marc Shaiman, lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Directed by Jack O’Brien. Choreography, Joshua Bergasse; orchestrations, Doug Besterman; sets and costumes, Mark Thompson; music direction, Nicholas Skilbeck; puppets, Basil Twist. With John Rubinstein, Emily Padgett. About 2 1/2 hours. $9-$302. At Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St., New York. Visit ticketmaster.com or call 877-250-2929.