The program for last weekend’s high school production of Willy Wonka included this director’s note: What could be more apropos in February than a musical about becoming the owner of the most magical chocolate factory on earth? Yes, the perfect antidote for cabin fever on the Island, extra helpings of dessert.
And there was a voluptuousness to every aspect of the play. There was a cast of thousands, or so it seemed, as the high school drama department all pitched in ladling out chocolaty goodness in every scene.
For those few left on the planet still unfamiliar with the story written by Roald Dahl and published in 1964 it follows the change in fortune of one Charlie Bucket, a sweet and unselfish boy played by Grant Meacham, who lives with his impoverished mother (Emily Lowe), father (Bryan MacKenty), and both sets of grandparents (Kristen Parece, Emma HallBilsback, Tony Bretch and Taylor McNeely). As is tradition in this story, all of the grandparents share one single bed. They are poor but they seem to get along well enough in tight quarters.
Into this mix arrives Willy Wonka, the eccentric owner of a nearby chocolate factory. Rykker Maynard starred as Mr. Wonka and played the role turned out in a purple jacket with a gold top hat plumed by a purple feather. Chocolatier by way of cabaret maestro.
In equal parts publicity blitz and a secret yearning to find a deserving heir, Mr. Wonka sends out millions of chocolate bars into the world into which five golden documents will be hidden. The five lucky bearers of the golden slips of paper will be entitled to a tour of the classified chocolate factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate.
Four hideous children recover the first four certificates – the imbecilic chowhound, Augustus Gloop (Gage Rancich), the spoiled rich, Paris Hilton-in-the-making Veruca Salt (Justine Tucker), the gum-chomping Violet Beauregard (Sarah Swift), the TV-addicted Mike Teavee (Thorpe Karbees) and, after two failed attempts, our hero, Charlie Bucket.
When the five kids visit the Wonka factory, each chaperoned by a parent or relative (Taylor McNeely, Ashley Willoughby, Taylor Rasmussen, Hayley Hewson and Ashleen Cafarelli), all are put to the test of scrupulous adherence to the rules. Those who transgress meet delightfully, terrible fates. After all, these kids are truly horrible creatures, each one the embodiment of bad manners and bad parenting.
And in case we didn’t get the hint that these children, not including Charlie, of course, model decidedly distasteful behaviors, a group of singing dwarves, the Oompa Loompas, serves as a sort of Greek chorus of wagging fingers and arched eyebrows. Last weekend saw the morphing of actors Aaron Lowe, Sarah Dawson, Lily Lubin, Kathryn Antonsson, Lucas Amarins, Sammi Chaves, Liam Craffey, Julia Cooper, Bradley Carroll, Bethany Cobb, Kansas Brew, Kate Holter and Corrine Kurtz into this band of green-haired, little people dressed in baking aprons and singing enigmatic songs of goodbye as another child has shrunk into oblivion, blown up into a giant blueberry, been sucked up an extraction pipe or disappeared down a garbage chute.
Another chorus of cooks provided further musical entertainment along the way. They were played by Megan Mendenhall, Sophia Nelson, Raine Monast, Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, Hartley Sierputoski, Julia Cooper, Sarah Parece, Alexis Willett and Amy Fligor. There were also loads of singing squirrels. Perhaps not quite so furry in real life, actors Bethany Cobb, Chris Sharkovitz, Bradley Carroll, Nathaniel Horwitz and Liam Craffey seemed quite at home among the chattering, nut-gathering classes.
Further show-stopping numbers were belted out by Taylor Rasmussen as the Candyman and Jake Sudarsky as Phineous Trout.
As the saying goes, a hero is only worth his weight in the villain he vanquishes. The case could be made that the true villain in this story is our own vain and inglorious selves, greed and gluttony always such a slippery slope. However, there was also the embodiment of evil on display or rather the hint of nastiness, after all this was a family show, played expertly by rival candymakers Megan Mendenhall, Kate Holter, Corinne Kurtz and Kansas Brew.
Elsie Fantasia, Aaron Low, Sam Permar, Chris Sharkovitz, Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, Sophia Nelson, Hartley Sierputoski, Raine Monst, Amy Fligor and Alexis Willett completed the cast playing various unnamed children. Their roles may have been anonymous but they were definitely not unnoticed by the full house of adoring fans.
Actors always take center stage and most often it is the performances that are talked about on the car ride home. However, it would be unjust not to give a nod to the players who perform behind the scenes without whom there would be no performance to discuss.
Kate Murray directed the play, not to mention all the young actors, with the aid of Janis Wightman and Michael Tinus for musical direction. Choreography was done by Lianna Loughman with assistance from Amy Fligor. Set painting design was made possible thanks to Aoife Estes with additional art assistance by Hannah Moore, Carl Gosselin, Jevaughn Crooks, Evan Eagan, Alexis Willett, Warren Gowell, Kira Shipway, Sophie Nelson, Thorpe Karabees, Kristen Parece, Sam Oslyn, Sam Permar, Amy Fligor, Clara Carjulo, Bethany Cobb, Ella Mahoney and T2.
The orchestra members included Sidra Dumont, Sal Esposito, Maya Harcourt, Ned Hehre, Nathaniel Horwitz, Thorpe Karabees, Shauna Nute, Barra Peak, Caitlyn Serpa, Amalie Tinus, Mikayla Tinus, Michael Tinus, Janis Wightman and Anna Yukevich.
Other significant credits: Stage manager, Evan Eagan; assistant stage manager, Mike Patnaude; production manager, Betsy Hauck; set technical direction, Buck Martin and Jeffrey Enos; and all things electrical were handled by Charlie Esposito.
Set designers were Evan Eagan and Mike Patnaud (also responsible for lighting design); sound design, Sawyer Klebs; sound technicians, Megan M. and Aaron Wilson; sound effects, Hudson Klebs; special effects, Jeffrey Enos, Buck Martin and Charlie Esposito; special effects videographer, Chris Pitt; costume design, Ashley Girard; costume production, Ashley Willoughby; costumers, Kira Shipway, Lindsay Tocik; properties designers / seamstresses, Jude Tucker, Alison Enos, Kathy Retmier; makeup, Toby Riseborough; fly ops, Jerome Pikor and Bryan MacKenty; run crew, Carol Gosselin, Aaron Wilson, Aoife Estes, Betsy Hauck, Jerome Pikor and Jake Sudarsky.
In other words, Willy Wonka was a true community affair. The audience also contributed. The weekend saw full houses at the performing arts center as friends and family brought their energy to each show playing, especially in the case of the many parents in attendance, their own critical role in bringing this magical show to life.