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Mendes' Chocolate Factory has gala London opening

Director Sam Mendes arrives for the opening night of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a new stage musical based on Roald Dahl's popular story about Willy Wonka and his amazing Chocolate Factory, at the Drury Lane Theatre in central London, Tuesday, June 25, 2013. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

LONDON (AP) -- Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes has followed "Skyfall" with a sky's-the-limit return to the stage — a technically spectacular musical version of "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory."

The Mendes-directed musical, based on Roald Dahl's much-loved — and twice film-adapted — children's book, got an enthusiastic reception from its opening-night audience Tuesday at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Early reviews were also positive, with critics in the Guardian, Independent and Daily Mirror newspapers and Time Out magazine all awarding "Charlie" four out of five stars.

The show features new songs by "Hairspray" duo Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, along with extravagant sets and costumes by Mark Thompson designed to bring to life the magical confectionary factory run by the flamboyant yet secretive Willy Wonka.

Thompson draws on a bag of tricks that ranges from animation to shadow projections, and fans of the book will find most of its flights of visual fantasy recreated onstage, from the factory's chocolate waterfall to Wonka's great glass elevator.

Playwright David Greig has adapted Dahl's story of poor but imaginative Charlie Bucket, who finds a golden ticket that allows him a tour of Wonka's top-secret facility — alongside the far less wholesome children Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee and Veruca Salt.

Douglas Hodge, one of Britain's leading musical-theater performers, stars as a charming and unsettling Willy Wonka, while Nigel Planer, a former star of 1980s comedy "The Young Ones," is the cast's other big name as Charlie's Grandpa Joe.

Tuesday's premiere was a red-carpet affair, attended by a host of British celebs as well as actresses Uma Thurman and Sarah Jessica Parker, who arrived with her husband Matthew Broderick and their son, James.

Producers are hoping "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" — which is booking until May 2014 — will be a stage hit to match Mendes' screen James Bond blockbuster.