“Who can take a sunrise? Sprinkle it in dew; Cover it in chocolate and a miracle or two? The candy man can…’cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.” And that is what Willy Wonka does in Roald Dahl’s version of Willy Wonka, as he tests the character of 5 golden ticket winners.
Original music, lyrics, and stage adaptation are by Tim McDonald and Leslie Bricusse. Reisterstown Theater Project’s production is directed by Sage D’Amico and produced by Shanie Nelson in cooperation with Franklin Middle School. Setting this production apart from the original Willy Wonka film circa 1971, are the updates and references to current times (cell phones, selfies, and childhood obesity). Additionally, what is pleasing is to see a multi-cultural cast that really brings it into the 21st century.
Willy Wonka (Kevin D’Alesandro) is both charming and charismatic as he sings “Pure Imagination,” yet also reprimands in the same soft voice. D’Alesandro exudes leadership as Wonka in ensemble numbers as if he is the pied piper, leading the kids off stage, down the center aisle and back again.
James (Coby Ziv) and Matilda (Chloe Hunt) are school mates of Charlie’s that are paired with Willy Wonka in the introduction of “The Candy Man.” They also aid in moving the story along during set changes and are part of the full cast numbers, “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket,” and “Finale.”
The Candy Man (Alex Levy) and the Candy Man kids sing the full version of “The Candy Man” while dancing around a candy cart full of chocolate bars and lollipops. This is where Charlie shows his first act of honesty, as he finds a silver coin and tries to return it to the Candy Man.
Charlie Bucket (Ben Tasker) is adorable in the lead role and is well-matched with Grandpa Joe (Ben Garber) who is the singing surprise with his lovely baritone voice. The sweetest scene is when Charlie and Grandpa are on the Wonka tour and they sing, “Flying.” Kudos goes to designers Jim and Jillian Thomas for building the industrial fan for The Fizzy Drink room.
Tasker also shares a good chemistry with Jacob Singer, who plays Charlie’s dad, Mr. Bucket. Their “Think Positive” duet reveals they are more than father and son, they are friends. Mrs. Bucket (Lauren DeSha) is a quiet character but is also the voice of hope for the family despite their financial woes. DeSha shares her singing talents in, “Cheer Up Charlie,” along with Mr. Bucket, Grandma Josephina (Hannah Greenberg), Grandma Georgina (Kathlyn Wengler), Grandpa George (Michael Nichols), and Grandpa Joe (Ben Garber).
Phineous Trout (Sydney Hunt) is the reporter that announces the golden ticket winners. Hunt is sophisticated in this role, maintaining her composure while the winners are less than appropriate with their behavior. She shares the stage in “I Eat More!” that shows the talents of the Chorus of Cooks. They sing and dance with pizza tray props while wearing all black tops and pants accentuated with colorfully patterned aprons and chef hats.
Augustus Gloop (Hayden Spitzer) is the first to find a winning golden ticket along with his mother, Mrs. Gloop (Kat Henderson). Both Spritzer and Henderson are talented in their Germany roles with Augustus dressed in traditional German Lederhosen and Mrs. Gloop wore a mid-calf length red dress. However, at times it was challenging understanding their heavy accents. Still, Spritzer is humorous as the little food gobbler and is the first to break one of Wonka’s rules in The Chocolate Room.
Wonka states everything is edible with the ensemble cast posing as brightly colored flowers, lollipops, and cotton candy trees. They are the chocolate river comprised of a brown band of material made of velvet that is waved like waves. This is just one of many clever design ideas that come to fruition with the set.
The character of Violet Beauregarde (Brooke Nixon) and her mother Mrs. Beauregarde (Jackie Hunt) is updated to represent Southern Barbie-like exercise gurus. Wearing navy blue velvet sweat suits, Violet and her mom are into their looks as they constantly stroked their blonde tresses and fuss with their appearances. Willy Wonka and the four remaining kids sing, “Chew It,” demonstrating Wonka’s latest creation. Proud of her gum chewing antics, Violet is the 2nd naughty child to betray Willy Wonka in The Inventing Room.
Veruca Salt (Anike Sonuga) is not a likable character which means Sonuga plays the role of this bratty girl as she does with her overwhelming demands in “I Want it Now.” Her temper tantrums seem real but the high-pitched shrieking (she’s got lung) could be taken down a notch and still work for her character. Mrs. Salt (Kathy Blake) is funny as the once-was or wanna-be pageant princess. She reflects qualities of actress Connie Ray (April Kepner’s mother on ER), as wanting the best for her daughter but obtains it by opening up her checkbook. As they tour The Nut Sorting Room, Veruca wants one of the squirrels for a pet, but is thrown down the garbage chute when she attempts to grab it. She is the 3rd contestant to disappoint Willy Wonka. The squirrels are so cute in their furry tails and ear headbands, played by Fiona Durante, Tatum Early, Breanna Hackerman, Kenn Hurwitz, and Kathryn Schneider.
The characters of Mike Teavee (Jake Robbins) and Ms. Teavee (Heather Fillmore) are updated to represent techno-obsessed cell phone and iPad users. Robbins plays Mike exactly as the character is in the original movie – smart-mouth, over confident, and a TV fanatic. Because Mike is so over-zealous and bucks authority, he is the 4th kids to go after Wonka tells him no. Fillmore’s character (Mike’s mom) is fully engrossed in her cell phone. Yet in the beginning of the show, there is a curious contrast with her character’s costume. She is dressed in a green polka-dot dress with pearls and a bow in her hair, reminiscent of the 1950s.
The Oompa-Loompa chorus is a broad range of ages from kindergarten to middle school. They are delightful preforming the original Oompa-Loompa song that includes an update to the Oompa-Loompa dance. It is not as robotic as it is in the film.
Costume Designers Rae Ann Hetrick and Oliver Springer are to be commended for the Oompa-Loompa’s wonderful costumes. They are not the scary hazmat-orange we all remember from the film, but a nifty combination of black, gray, and glitter silver outfits that makes them dazzle as a whole. Most of the Oompa’s wear miniature silver hats and then their costumes are a mix-and-match of perhaps a gray and black stripped top with black leggings or a ruffled skirt. Others donned a silver or black sequin mini skirt or a vest in the same material. Regardless of the combination of tops and bottoms, it was refreshing and made the Oompa-Loompa’s friendlier and less freaky.
Without giving it all away, Reisterstown Theater Project pulled off some serious set pieces designed by Arianna Burrell along with at least 2 dozen builders that include fly-ins for the various Wonka rooms, revolving walls for the Bucket’s home and the Factory, and of course the Wonka-vator. Lighting, sound, and visual effects were created by Thaddaeus Fillmore while Matt Schriver is the Music Director and Matt Elky is the conductor and Orchestra Manager. Jillian Arnold is to be credited for the choreography.
Like many children’s stories, there is always a beautiful yet moral message about honesty, kindness, or love. Willy Wonka is all three of those as Charlie is tested by The Candy Man and Mr. Wonka, himself. Charlie is a good kid that comes from a good family that is neither materialist nor greedy.
Whether a timeless classic or an up-to-date version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Reisterstown’s Theatre Project’s Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka is a fun-for-all production that should be shared with the entire family.
Running Time: 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka plays through November 16, 2014 at Reisterstown Theatre Project performing at Franklin Middle School – 10 Cockeys Mill Road, in Reisterstown, MD. Tickets can be purchased online 24 hours before curtain, at online. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.