Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
“Stories are good for you.” So goes the oft-quoted mantra of British children’s book author Roald Dahl. His wonderful tale, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, came to life on the Flint Youth Theatre stage Saturday, where a fairly full house enjoyed a musical retelling of this beloved story.
Directed by Andrew Morton, Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka sports a large cast of youngsters and adults who work together delightfully as they bring this modern morality play to life. There is a message, and curiously it allows us to cheer for the winner while still feeling some empathy for the losers.
Willy Wonka, played with mystery, color, comedy, and a teensy slice of malice by Dan Gerics, has decided to gift his magical candy factory. Hoping to find a proper and worthy successor, he has hidden five golden tickets among fifty million chocolate bars. The winners believe they have won a tour of the factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate.
Syd Brown plays Charlie Bucket, a poor youngster with four bedridden grandparents. These four (LaTroy Childress, Brittany Reed, Matt Coggins, Sarah Jarrett) all occupy one large bed while his parents (Jesse Glenn & Shannon Olsen) work to keep the family whole. It is Charlie’s Grampa Joe (Coggins) who assures Charlie that his future with the Wonka factory is bright even though he now cannot even afford to buy a possible winning bar.
First to win is Augustus Sloop (Evan Brewer), a chubby child from Germany, “I Eat More!” Madaline Harkema plays his doting mother, giving in to his every whim.
Veruca Salt (Kate Spademan), a spoiled and demanding girl from Brazil, is the next winner. Her instant switches from angry harridan to sweet young thing were both comical and quirky as she ordered her father (Jordan Climie) to buy up everything in sight.
Meanwhile, Charlie’s dad has lost his job. Trying to cheer him, Charlie sings “Think Positive” which ends in a charming soft shoe duet between Glenn and Brown.
Another ticket turns up in Georgia won by Violet Beauregard (Alexis Crochran), an inveterate gum chomper with an attitude and accompanied by her sycophantic mother (Aris Campbell). Television junkie Mike Teevee (Enrique Vargas) wins the fourth ticket but seems less than interested in touring a chocolate factory with no Wi-Fi! He is pushed to participate by his flamboyant mother (Brooke Caldwell).
Finally, as winter approaches a chilly, coatless Charlie meets the Candy Man (Gerics) on the street and helps him close up his kiosk. In return he is given a candy bar with – you guessed it – a golden ticket inside!
Act two finds the winners touring the amazing Wonka factory. Each room has it’s special characteristic and many come with warnings. Alas, the children begin to fall victim to their own self-centered lifestyles. Augustus is swept away in a river of chocolate while other such fractured fates await each of the rest.
We loved the Miss Blueberry blowup that claims Violet and the miniaturization of Mike TeeVee is also clever.
Live musicians Rafael McDaniel, Annadelle Kimber, William Mintline, Aaron Weeks, and Kris Kress accompany the songs sprinkled throughout. Best remembered will be Wonka’s “Pure Imagination” and the repeated marches of the Oompa Loompas as they troop in and out of each candy room with their musical explanations. Six brightly paint spattered youngsters (Julia Cassidy, Teisa Chima, Darius Collins, Myah Sanders, Alejandra Vargas, & Therese Wofford) sporting electrically lit soled shoes fill these roles marvelously.
Sets are also amazing with bright lights, bright colors, and ingeniously contrived candy “machinery” thanks to designer Tim McMath. Kudos must also go to choreographer Emma Davis and to costume designer Adam M. Dill.
The ending is the best of all as Charlie is ultimately rewarded for his honesty and his concern for others. So, this really IS a story that is good for us! It has a lot to say about the importance of tolerance, good deeds and kindness. Bring the kids – you’ll find yourself enjoying the story with them.
Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka continues at Flint’s Bower Theatre through December 18. For more information about times and tickets contact the box office at 810-273-1530 or online at www.theFYT.org