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'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' the musical brings home Phoenix native to ASU Gammage stage

Nathaniel Hackmann.

June 11, 2019

Nathaniel Hackmann plays Mr. Salt in the national tour of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," coming to the ASU Gammage stage for the first time. Hackmann interviewed with PhxStages about his theatrical upbringing, as well as the show's central themes and what magic can come from one night at the chocolate factory.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" will run Tuesday, June 11, through Sunday, June 16, at ASU Gammage. Buy tickets.

Question: The musical “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is based on Roald Dahl's incredibly popular children's book of the same name, but for someone who hasn't read the book, seen the stage version, or either of the film adaptations, what would you tell them it is about? 

Answer: It’s a morality tale of the dangers of gluttony and the virtues of creativity framed on a young boy’s journey to self-discovery and opportunity. Mix in magic, music and fantastical settings and characters, you’ll see that everyone ends up with their “just desserts.”

Q: I have to imagine you read the book or at least saw the Gene Wilder film when you were growing up. What are some of your earliest memories or recollections of the book or film? 

A: I grew up with the book and the film. All of Roald Dahl’s books were part of my childhood. In fact, when I was in children’s theater, I was an Oompa Loompa myself!

Q: Tell us a little about the character you play in the show, Mr. Salt. 

A: He is a larger-than-life caricature of a Russian oligarch and billionaire. In the giant fur coat and jet-black wig with the white stripe, I feel like the love child of the Count from “Sesame Street” and Pepe LePew from “Looney Tunes.”  

Q: What are some of the main themes or messages in Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?” 

A: Self-belief is key to achieving your dreams. Self-indulgence is dangerous and often destructive.  

Q: What is your favorite moment or song in the show, and why? 

A: I love “Pure Imagination.” It is the true embodiment of the childlike wonder that is central to this play.  

Charlie and the chocolate factory cast

The cast of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Q: Roald Dahl is one of the most popular writers of children's books. Why do you think his stories, including this one, have such a connection to children of all ages?   

A: All of his stories are about children as central characters overcoming unimaginable odds. And the fantastical characters and surroundings are so vivid and intoxicating you can’t help but see them in your mind’s eye. 

Q: You were born in Scottsdale and grew up in the Phoenix area, including going to Northern Arizona University before transferring to the Central Michigan University. Did you appear in any productions in town when you were growing up? Is this your first time appearing back in Phoenix after school and appearing in numerous regional theater productions, on Broadway in “Les Misérables,” and in several national tours? 

A: I did very little theater as a kid, but have been through ASU Gammage with two previous tours: Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in 2010 and “Les Misérables” in 2012 before going with the latter to Broadway.  

Q: Coming back to Phoenix, after appearing in so many tours and shows, including recently playing Gabey in the “On the Town” production in London with the BBC “Proms,” is a pretty exciting thing. What kinds of emotions do you think you'll experience when you take the ASU Gammage stage? 

A: The building itself is so familiar to me from my childhood. I have spent more time backstage and in the halls than the stage itself, so it’s probably that which holds the most nostalgia. The smell is unlike any other building for me.  

Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from this production? 

A: Don’t stop imagining and reaching for your dreams!