Inside Broadway's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" with Emma Pfaeffle, aka Veruca Salt
Roald Dahl's classic book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is getting reimagined with Broadway flair this spring! Opening April 23, the deliciously sweet new show stars Tony Award winner Christian Borle as Willy Wonka and Broadway newbies Jake Ryan Flynn, Ryan Foust and Ryan Sell as its trio of Charlie Buckets. With choreography by Joshua Bergasse, it also promises to be a whimsical dance whirlwind. We chatted with Emma Pfaeffle—who plays the spoiled, ballet-obsessed Veruca Salt—to get the behind-the-curtain scoop.
Dance Spirit: What was the show's audition process like? Emma Pfaeffle:I was initially sent to an ensemble dance call. Joshua gave us one of his infamously difficult combinations, with triple turns and high kicks—but the one thing he stressed was giving plenty of personality and character. The casting director asked if I could hang in the waiting room and look over sides for Veruca Salt. Later that week, I got a call asking if I could read again. I was out of the room in 10 minutes, frazzled and filled with adrenaline. A week later, I got the call from my agent saying that I booked the role, which made me scream in jubilation on the corner of Second Avenue and Houston Street. Tell us a little bit about your training. Are you a dancer who sings and acts? I was always enamored of musicals growing up, but dance took precedence in terms of training. I went to a performing arts high school in L.A. where my concentration was dance, but they offered a musical theater program as an elective. It was there that I really started to familiarize myself with singing and acting. My passion was and will always be dance, so I continued studying at the Conservatory of Dance at SUNY Purchase. It wasn't until my Broadway debut three years later that I really started to train my voice, because singing is hard. I'm still, to this day, very much a student of vocalization and acting.
What are you most excited about for the show? I'm beyond excited to be playing a principal role, especially such a devious little brat of a child. I get to be a comedic, dynamic character who's also a dancer! I feel like the luckiest girl on the planet.
Is there anything you're nervous about? While Joshua was creating Veruca's primarily balletic movement, I brought my pointe shoes in the spirit of trial and error—and it stuck. My last show was Finding Neverland, with Mia Michaels' contemporary choreography, light-years away from classical pointe. Getting back into the swing of ballet training and switching gears has been difficult. But I'm taking that nervous energy and using it to motivate me to work harder, train harder and ultimately fulfill my childhood ballerina fantasies.
What's your favorite thing about Veruca? The best part of Veruca is her insane confidence. She has no concept of the word "no." She's obsessed with ballet and being the best. Her maniacal need for more is what makes her such a great ballerina. She's never satisfied, and I think just about every dancer can relate to the notion of constantly needing to train harder and be better.
Why do you think audiences will love the show? I have yet to meet a person who hasn't seen the original Gene Wilder movie or read the book. This story is embedded in our pop culture. We're lucky to already have a devoted audience who loves the story, so now it's our job as a cast to do justice to such a classic. The creative team of the show is Broadway royalty, so I anticipate that audiences will love it just as much as, if not more than, they loved the book or movie.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opens April 23 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in NYC. Go to charlieonbroadway.com for ticket info.
A version of this post appeared in the April 2017 issue of Dance Spirit.