‘Willy Wonka: The Musical’ at Vienna Theatre Company

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THREE AND A HALF STARS
Vienna Theatre Company presents Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka: The Musical, with music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, and adapted for the stage by Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald. Jessie Roberts directs this production.

(L to R): Melissa Handel, Faith Skeen and Mia Parnaby (Oompa-Loompas) and Sedrick Moody (Willy Wonka). Photo by Jessica Sperlongano.
(L to R): Melissa Handel, Faith Skeen, Mia Parnaby (Oompa-Loompas) and Sedrick Moody (Willy Wonka). Photo by Jessica Sperlongano.

If any Willy Wonka production has a tall order to fill, it is probably in the set design. A world literally made out of candy, complete with a chocolate river? The possibilities for creativity here are endless! Scenic Artist Leta Fitzhugh has a couple of cute ideas– I liked the Oompa Loompas waving a long stretch of brown fabric to create the river– but overall, I feel like the potential for the scenery was largely untapped. The backdrop for this production was heavy black curtains and a projection screen that provided television interviews (projections designed by Jon Roberts, with graphics designed by Michael Philip Panganiban) throughout the show. I believe that this show relied too heavily on unreliable technology (many of the tech cues were delayed) for the overall atmosphere. While sceneries such as Charlie’s poor village and falling snowflakes were projected onto the black backdrop, I felt like the draperies were too imposing, and overwhelmed Wonka’s world. Physical set pieces like Charlie’s living room and a loaded candy cart provided little distraction.

Lighting by Tom Epps and Sound by Jon Roberts enhanced the atmosphere slightly with factory noises and spotlighting, but not enough to save it. The theater itself was also stuffy and overheated, making the overall experience an uncomfortable one. I do hope that the temperature is taken into account for future shows.

One impressive and successful element in this show was the music. Shortly before production was set to begin, Wonka lost its music director, which threatened to end this production before it even began. Vienna Theatre Company decided to undertake the “it takes a village” motto, and spread the duties for music director far and wide, piecing together the production with contributions from many different people, including Beth Atkins, Colleen Stock, and Francine Krasowska. Live music accompanied the show, which included musicians Beth Atkins, Francine Krasowska , Larry Zimmerman, Kristina Westernik, and Abel Ruiz. The live music was a nice touch, and they performed beautifully. Costume Designers Judy Whelihan and Kati Andresen also did a fine job, dressing Wonka in a bold, eccentric suit and using twisted pipe cleaners and glittery make-up to  make the Oompa Loopmas stand out.

The show begins with famed candy-creator Willy Wonka (Sedrick Moody) lamenting to the audience that the time for him to retire is imminent, but he has no suitable heir to his empire. He decides to stage a contest by placing five golden tickets into his candy bars throughout the world, with the finders winning a free tour of his factory, a lifetime supply of candy, and (unbeknownst to them) a life-changing inheritance for one of them. Unfortunately for Wonka, his seems to have recruited a band of brats: the spoiled Veruca Salt (Amelia Lindsey), greedy Augustus Gloop (Erik Peyton), antsy, unimpressed Mike Teavee (Tashi Poe), and the rude, gum-popping Violet Beauregarde (Kaia Griggs). The one exception seems to be the kind Charlie Bucket (Adam LeKang), who comes from a poor but proud family. One by one, these children break the rules of the factory…and suffer the consequences! No one is exempt from the temptations of the factory..not even Charlie. Will Mr. Wonka find an heir to his empire?

As far as performances go, the cast is a mixed bag of talent. Unpolished acting and rough singing voices are in high numbers, but one must also remember that the cast is made up mostly of young actors who are in the process of honing their craft. There are some standout actors here– the best being Mr. Wonka himself, Sedrick Moody. Moody shows an impressive singing voice, and highlights the eerie, slightly sinister side of Wonka (especially in the number “There’s No Knowing”), which makes for an interesting performance. Wayne Jacques is amusing as the exasperated television personality Phineous Trout, and Toby Nelson gives a hilarious, scene-stealing performance as Veruca’s mother, Mrs. Salt. Amelia Lindsey is also entertaining as Veruca, with her song “I Want It Now” being one of the best numbers, in my opinion. Joseph LeBlanc was also great as Grandpa George, who made an ongoing bit out of constantly mis-hearing things in the conversation.

(L to R): Bob Maurer (Grandpa Joe), Toby Nelson (Bucket), Nora Zanger (Grandma Josephine), Emily Franks (Grandma Georgina), Adam LeKang (Charlie Bucket) and Joseph LeBlanc (Grandpa George). Photo by Jessica Sperlongano.
(L to R): Bob Maurer (Grandpa Joe), Toby Nelson (Bucket), Nora Zanger (Grandma Josephine), Emily Franks (Grandma Georgina), Adam LeKang (Charlie Bucket) and Joseph LeBlanc (Grandpa George). Photo by Jessica Sperlongano.

Adam LeKang does a fine job as the enthusiastic Charlie Bucket (especially with the tap-dancing number, “Think Positive”), but I couldn’t help but dwell on the obvious age gap between him and the other children. In fact, Charlie easily has ten years on his peers and towers over them, making him look more like a parent than fellow child. Also, Erik Peyton, while adorable, is easily the smallest child on stage…which is confusing, giving that the character Augustus Gloop is really only known for one thing: being excessively large. Somewhere in the casting room, wires got crossed. Choreographer Rosslyn Fernandez does a fine job with teaching dance routines to a large group of children, shown best in the number “Golden Age of Chocolate.”

While the show definitely has some issues to iron out, there is also some real talent exhibited in Vienna Theatre Company’s Willy Wonka: The Musical.  This could be a good night of family fun!

Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

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Willy Wonka: The Musical plays through May 4, 2014 at Vienna Theatre Company playing at The Vienna Community Center-120 Cherry Street, SE, in Vienna, VA. Tickets may be purchased at the Vienna Community Center any time the Community Center is open or before the performance you wish to attend. The Community Center accepts payment in the form of cash or checks made out to The Town of Vienna. Tickets may be reserved in advance by sending an email to VTCshows@yahoo.com by 12:00 pm for evening performances and by 7:00pm the day before an afternoon matinee show. Please indicate the date of the performance, the number of tickets being reserved and the name under which to hold tickets.