A chat with Paul Slade Smith and Elijah Slavinskis of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Wonka-mania has taken over Australia!

Having already delighted audiences in Sydney, the factory is currently open in Melbourne, and will be travelling to Brisbane early next year. I snuck into the factory for an afternoon to chat to two of the stars – Charlie Bucket and Mr. Wonka himself – to ask all things chocolate!

Paul and Elijah

Willy Wonka is played by the stupendous Paul Slade Smith, who understudied the role on Broadway, as well as originating the role of Uncle Joe. Other credits include Finding Neverland (Broadway), My Fair Lady (2018 Revival at The Lincoln Center), Wicked (Dr. Dillamond, US National Tour) The Phantom of the Opera (US National Tour). Paul is also a playwright, with his play Unnecessary Farce winning 9 regional theatre awards and being performed globally.

Elijah Slavinskis is one of the 5 young boys sharing the role of Charlie Bucket (alongside Benjamin Belsey, Lenny Thomas, Edgar Stirling, and Lachlan Young). Elijah is no stranger to the professional stage, having recently originating the role of Mason in the Australian Premiere of School of Rock. Other credits include Benji in Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Young Lola in Kinky Boots. As well as studying all styles of dance at May Downs School of Dance, Elijah also plays Guitar and Double Bass.

Can you tell me a bit about your performance history?

Elijah: I did productions of Kinky Boots in Melbourne and Sydney, and then I did the tenth anniversary tour of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. And I just finished School of Rock.

Paul: I guess I started in the fifth grade. Peter Pan. I played the Dad and then all through school I did shows. I did You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown when I was in grade school, and that was kind of like a realisation moment of “oh, I really enjoy this.” I like doing this in front of an audience. After I got out of school I spent my first 15 years as an actor in Chicago, working at theatres that are typically doing like five shows a year. So you’re on a show for a couple of months, so you’re typically doing like five shows a year too, and not just musicals. The theatre did Shakespeare and straight plays and dramas and comedies.

What is your absolute favourite type of candy?

Paul: Peanut Butter Cup. The mix of savoury and sweet, it’s great.

Elijah: My favourite type of candy is probably Bulls Eyes. It’s this red and white one, which is mint. Whenever I go to a lolly shop to see if I can buy one, they’re always like, ‘are you sure?’ because they’re really strong. But I’m sure!

The Australian cast of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Photo by Brian Geach

What is your favourite song in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Elijah: My favourite song is probably ‘When Willy Met Oompa’, which is when he has a little song with the Oompa Loompas. And I love ‘It Must Be Believed To Be Seen’. And of course, ‘Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka’. My favourite to sing is ‘Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka’, it gets really repetitive once you’ve sung it a lot, but it’s still my most favourite to sing because it is really energised and it’s so good.

Paul: My favourite song is the beautiful song at the end of the show, ‘The Last Elevator.’ I think it is so… it’s been special for me. Ever since I got the audition material. I sang that song, and I thought this is a really beautifully musicalized moment at the end of the show. You know, where he turns the factory over to this young boy. It’s a beautiful moment, perfectly realised in musical theatre terms and just a gorgeous song, really lovely to sing.”

Paul – You have been attached to this show for some time, having been a part of the Original Broadway cast. How do you keep the show fresh having performed in it for so long?

Paul: I am lucky, and I have worked with great actors who fall into both camps. There’s some people that can’t figure out how to keep telling the story, which is completely understandable. You know, once you’ve told it, or once you feel like you’ve achieved the telling of it. To me, every night it is a new audience. It’s easy for me to connect it to that fact. At the Majesty’s Theatre we’ve got 1,700 people out there and in my mind, they have no idea what story we’re going to tell. Theatre for me is like telling a story that you’ve successfully told before. And I am loving Australia. I have a job I love working with a great group of people. That’s everything.

If you could invent a new crazy Wonka product, what would it be?

Paul: I think something that evolved or something. Something that as you ate it, it was changing.

Elijah: It would have to be a chocolate bar that you can change. You have it in your hand and you’re just like, this is the flavour I want it to be, and then you eat it, and once you’ve taken a bite out of it, it grows back. And then you can change the flavour every single time and then you can just have an everlasting bar. It doesn’t even need to be chocolate, like it can be a chocolate bar with a lolly flavour.

Paul as Willy Wonka | Photo by Brian Geach

Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka are two of the world’s most iconic children’s characters, with the latter having been depicted by some of Hollywood’s greatest. How have you both put your own spin on the characters?

Elijah: It feels so good to be playing Charlie Bucket, I have always loved Charlie as a character. I absolutely loved the story. I have always wanted to be him. I think Charlie is a nice boy and he is really caring and I hope people say that about me. I have two copies of the book and I had a Willy Wonka birthday when I was three. I dressed up as Willy Wonka. We had a fake chocolate factory and a lolly cake, it was so good.

Paul: I think in a sense, playing this character is the same as playing any other character you’re asked to do, which is that you find things in it you can relate to personally. I think he has got an innocence to him, you know he’s got a childlike aspect to him. He’s a very private person. He is driven by creativity. Those are all of the things that are easy to relate to. Although he doesn’t have great social skills, which of course in his way, turns out to be bad for the children that come through the factory. There are so many things that he is saying when he’s talking about the subject… Everyone watching the show knows what he’s talking about but you can take the exact same words and apply it to what you’re doing. To stand on a Broadway stage or here at Her Majesty’s Theatre, which is a beautiful theatre, and sing “if you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it”. What you’re saying is there is no artifice, no wall between what you’re doing and what you’re saying. It’s true with “The View From Here” as well, I always think singing to a 10 year old actor, you know, that song is basically like “I was a kid like you, I was an odd child who felt out of sorts with the rest of kids because I had this creativity. I have grown up, I found a place in the world where I could be myself, you will too, and I have brought you here to see the view from here.” And the view from here as an actor is that we’re standing and looking at this audience, and this is the view you will have. And it’s true with each one of these kids. Saying “when you’re my age, you’ll still be doing this” because they’re all incredibly talented.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is now playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Melbourne, and will move to Brisbane’s QPAC in 2020. 

For tickets and more information, please visit the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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