Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka opened at NextStop Theatre in Herndon to a sold-out house this past weekend. The cast included professional actors, alongside local students, which made for a very personal feel to the show, and the audience was filled with friends and family there to support their local theater and loved ones.
Willy Wonka the play is based on a combination of the original Dahl story, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, published in 1964, and the movie starring Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, released in 1971. Anthony Newly wrote the songs which were included in the 1971 motion picture. In 2004, Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald adapted the story for the stage, adding music created with a retro sound meant to replicate the style of the original songs.
The story’s setting is ever-changing (from a shack of a house, to a factory, to a chocolate river, to countless rooms filled with elaborate machinery) and extremely hard to bring to the stage so much is left to the imagination.
Jennifer Lambert directed the show with musical direction by Evie Korovesis, and the talented duo also co-choreographed. With the help of Evan Hoffmann (light design), Joshua Redford (sound design), Mark Hidalgo (prop design), and Kristina Martin (costume design), Lambert and Korovesis have done a fantastic job creating the framing and imagery needed to make all of the unseen magic of Dahl’s world come to life.
Willy Wonka is a famous candy maker and has hidden five golden tickets in chocolate bars distributed throughout the world. The finders of these tickets win a tour of the factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate. Enter Charlie Buckett, a young boy from an exceedingly poor family that manages to the find joy in their meager existence. Charlie is the unlikely finder of one of the five coveted tickets, and the others are claimed by an array of snotty, spoiled, selfish, disrespectful children, who are accompanied to the factory by their equally obnoxious and oblivious parents. Willy Wonka greets the families at the gates and then conducts the children on a tour of his chocolate factory, visiting different rooms carefully crafted to tempt each of the children, including Charlie.
The driving force of the play is the man himself, Willy Wonka. John Loughney is perfect as the eccentric, charming, and slightly maniacal Wonka. Loughney’s strong voice opens with the well-loved song “Pure Imagination”, and his presence dictates the charged pace of the entire show. It is hard not to compare actors to those who have famously preceded them in roles, like Gene Wilder’s Wonka in this case, but Loughney makes the role his own and there is never a question of who is the conductor of this journey through the imagination.
Loughney, is joined by Jaclyn Young, as Mrs. Bucket and Phinneous Trout, and Matt Baughman, as Mr. Bucket and Candy Man. The three adult actors are from NextStop’s Professional Company. Young and Baughman work very well off of each other and help to maintain the high energy and excitement throughout the production.
The role of Charlie Bucket is shared by two young performers and Kylee Geraci was in on the evening I was there. Geraci is all parts adorable and expresses the innocence and selflessness of Charlie that makes the character so loved. The song “Think Positive!” is an uplifting moment in the show, when Charlie is trying to cheer her father, who has just lost his job. But Charlie isn’t only sweetness; he is also full of life and abundant silliness, as is seen in the solo, “Burping.” Charlie has tasted the forbidden Fizzy Lifting Drink. With the clever use of blocks and many balloons, Charlie “flies” dangerously close to the air vents but discovers that he can burp his way back to the ground to safety.
The other ticket winners, Augustus Gloop (Aidan Chomicki), Mike Teavee (William Price), Veruca Salt (Sissy Sheridan), and Violet Beauregarde (Mallory St. Arnold), each have their moment in the spotlight.
Chomicki’s Augustus sings the hilarious “I Eat More” with his mother, played by Delia Hartman. His unchecked gluttony causes Augustus to fall into the chocolate river, which is creatively represented by a long flowing brown cloth that then gets wrapped around him to illustrate being covered in chocolate.
Price as Mike, with his mom Ms. Teavee (Vivian Lemons), sings “I See It On TV” with such an awesome screen obsessed intensity that I was worried his head might explode. St. Arnold plays the gum chewing Violet with snooty perfection. And Sheridan sings Veruca Salt’s well-known “I Want It Now” as a spot-on spoiled brat of epic proportions.
The story of Willy Wonka would not be complete without his crew of green-haired and matching outfitted Oompa Loompas. Renee DeRoche, Finneas Hargadon, Claire Johnson, Zain Kaul, Knox McKinley, Caley Nee, Eliana Redford, Soren Romano, Jackson Smith, and Claire Turner play the workers who sing the infamous “Oompa-Loompa” songs that mark the lessons to be learned from each of the children’s mistakes, along with Wonka assistants, Faith Hargadon, Emma Harris, Sara Jade Kelly, and Kiernan Romano.
NextStop Theatre Company’s Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka is a fantastic show filled with young local talent, bolstered by strong professional actors and a terrific design team. The show is fun and full of joy, bringing a lightness that is very much in need today. As Willy Wonka says, “There is no life I know; To compare with pure imagination.” So delve into Dahl’s world and unleash your imagination…and enjoy all the chocolate!
Running Time: 70 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka plays through December 18, 2016, at NextStop Theatre Company – 269 Sunset Park Drive, in Herndon, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.