Review: ‘Willy Wonka’ at Other Voices Theatre

From the opening moments of the Other Voices Theatre’s production of Willy Wonka, the audience is swept away into a “world of pure imagination.” The show is based on s classic children’s novel, with music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Sean Bryne has the significant responsibility of bringing the mad genius candy maker to life. Full of fun, energy, imagination and just a touch of snark, Mr. Bryne is having as much fun as his guests. He’s really very good.

Sean Byrne (Willy Wonka). Photo by Adam Blackstock.

The Oompa Loompas, the Wonka candy factory workforce, are adorable. Anna Alt, Eliza Gregory, Liliana Griffee, Sabrina Grifee, and Olivia Manos knit together the moral lessons of gluttony, obnoxiousness, instant gratification and electronic over-stimulation.

The Bucket family’s humble shack is dominated by the big bed that’s serves as the semi-permanent resting place for Grandpa Joe (Jeff Wine), Grandma Josephine (Ed Gabb), Grandpa George (Ed Gabb) and Grandma Georgina (Patty Bryne). They bring a ton of laughs through their rapid-fire interactions, and Grandpa George’s poor hearing is a source of much humor. Jeff Wine is fun to watch throughout. Mr. Bucket (played by James Funkhouser) was also very good, and Mrs. Bucket (Katie Johnson) never loses hope, and carries her family along through tough times.

Jacob Holcomb (Charlie Bucket). Photo by Adam Blackstock.

A review of this show would not be complete without a mention Jacob Holcombe as Charlie Bucket. Jacob was born to play role, and he brings Charlie to life with a sweetness and hopeful spirit that swept me along with the the audience along to his eventual succession to ownership of the chocolate wonderland.

The children who win the golden tickets are all very good, as are their parents. Standouts are Andrew Seaton (Augustus Gloop), with a sweet and clear singing voice, and Kaitlin McCallion as Veruca Salt. Ms. McCallion plays the despised Veruca almost perfectly, with a wonderful singing voice and major stage presence. Another standout performance is Mike Reed (the Candy Man). His performance of the signature Anthony Newley tune “Candy Man” is an Act One highlight.

There are several full-company vocal numbers, and each of those were also highlights. Musical Director Cathie Porter-Borden is at the top of her game in this production, and it shows!

Jeff Wine (Grandpa Joe), Donald Toms (Grandma Josephine), Patty Byrne (Grandma Georgina), and Ed Gabb (Grandpa George). Photo by Adam Blackstock.

It’s tough to produce a show like Willy Wonka in a small theater space, but the uber-talented Susan Thornton and her tech crew handle the challenge with ease. Set design and scenic artist Lee Hebb has devised a few wonderful tech theater tricks, including four rolling walls to cover set transitions and really fun way of transporting poor young Mr. Gloop from the river of chocolate.

The production make use of some digital video, courtesy of Digital Bard, and news reporter Phineous Trout (Thomas Bricker), smoothly shifts from on screen to live action. What might otherwise have been a technical distraction seems perfectly suited to the story.

In a show like Willy Wonka, audiences want to be whisked away on a fantasy journey to experience the magical possibilities that only Mr. Wonka can reveal. Judging by the reaction of the many families in the audience, Other Voices Theatre has done just that!

Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Willy Wonka plays through February 12, 2017, at Other Voices Theatre performing at The Performing Arts Factory – 244 South Jefferson Street, in Frederick, MD. For tickets call (866) 967-8167, or purchase them online.