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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka’ large and lively in Waupaca

Critic At Large

Waupaca Community Theatre

Program covers.

WAUPACA, Wis. (WFRV)

Hurrah for brats.

Kids who are selfish, mean, arrogant and all things un-nice spice the musical “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka.”

Being set in a huge candy factory, the story is almost sweet, but author Roald Dahl’s ghoulish sense of humor is always around to add bite.

In association with the Waupaca Fine Arts Festival, Waupaca Community Theatre is leaping into the show with a production that keeps growing with elaborate touches. Performances in Waupaca High School Performing Arts Center continue to Aug. 4.

Waupaca Community Theatre summer shows tend to go big, starting with an orchestra for a sturdy foundation and to set the pace.

This production has imagination in set pieces and costuming, including for the eight spirited, comical and out-there Oompa Loompas.

The setup is this: Candy factory owner Willy Wonka wants to retire. He has quite the business plan to choose his successor: Hold a contest among kids of the world, with five who have found a golden ticket from among his candy bars being qualifiers. Woven around the contest is the story of Charlie Bucket and his super-poor family who survive on cabbage soup and optimism. That Charlie’s grandparents never get out of bed is one of the memorable parts of the bizarre tale.

A key tone of this production – the persona of Willy Wonka – is set immediately by the performance of Eric Conner in the opening “Pure Imagination.” Eric Conner owns a smooth voice and sure manner, and he glides through the song with a lot of eye contact with the audience. Later, when Willy Wonka is going a-bonka-bonka on the sassy kids, the voice and manner are like a velvet hammer. In other words, Eric Conner makes the character his own.

Also notable in this production is its extension of the name “Charlie” for the featured character. Instead of Charles, this Charlie could be Charlotte or Charlene because Claire Jacquet plays the role. She steadily weaves through Charlie’s downs and ups, joys and yearnings as Charlie hangs on by a fingernail, the song “Think Positive” being Charlie’s guidepost.

The sense of humor of Roald Dahl is beyond wry. That especially comes through in Charlie’s bed-bound grandparents and the snarky kids.

Capturing the grandparents’ goofy byplay – with a lot of deaf-as-a-post jokes – are Matthew Bonikowske, Claire Wicinske, Jerry Hurst and Kay Ellingson.

Leaping into the over-the-top roles of the spoiled-rotten kids and their parents are Alexander Lederer (as piggy Augustus) and Lori Zelinske (Mrs. Gloop), Twyla Alix (as super-selfish Veruca) and Dave Larsen (moneybags Mr. Salt), Erin Harger (as gum chomping Violet) and Carmen Riebel (Mrs. Beaugregarde) and Conner Loken (as TV/computer-crazed Mike Teavee) and Lori Bauer (Mrs. Teavee).

One oasis of niceness is The Candy Man, notably in the forever-catchy tune “The Candy Man,” sung in sunny ways by Joshua Barnett.

The backdrops and special effects sometimes have pop. Willy Wonka’s factory is a surreal burst of colors and imaginative machines and pipes. After eating experimental gum, Violet expands before everyone’s eyes (a how’d they do that? effect). Charlie and her Grandpa Joe (Matthew Bonikowske) experience clouds of bubbles. For the song “There’s No Knowing,” a boat made of “candy” is “floated” through unknown parts of the factory. An impression of flying in a hot-air balloon with Willy Wonka is created by projecting moving images from high over a city.

There’s a whole lot in this production. The overall effect reminds me of what a community theater director once told me: “If it’s easy, it wouldn’t be fun.” As the curtain closed on opening night, the beaming expression on Charlie/Claire Jacquet said “not easy”/“fun.”

***

Creative: From film 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and Roald Dahl’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”: music and lyrics – Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley in adaptation by Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald; director – Tamara Jacquet; assistant director – Jessica Fletcher Hauser; music coordinator/conductor – John Kelley; choreography – Emma Kelley; vocal coach – Holly Saunders; rehearsal accompanist – Wanda Eikenbary; set design – Marcel Van Camp; set painting – Vanessa Bock; sound techs – Sydni Sondrol, Anna Ryder, Emma Kelley; lighting tech – Riley McKibben; costume alterations – Donna Rickel, Kay Ellingson

Cast:

Willy Wonka – Eric Conner

Charlie Bucket – Claire Jacquet

Mr. Bucket – Dale Dobbe

Mrs. Bucket – Jodi Alix

Grandpa Joe – Matthew Bonikowske

Grandma Josephine – Claire Wicinske

Grandpa George – Jerry Hurst

Grandma Georgina – Kay Ellingson

Augustus Gloop – Alexander Lederer

Mrs. Gloop – Lori Zelinske

Veruca Salt – Twyla Alix

Mr. Salt – Dave Larson

Violet Beauregard – Erin Harger

Mrs. Beauregard – Carmen Riebel

Mike Teavee – Connor Loken

Mrs. Teavee – Lori Bauer

Candy Man – Joshua Barnett

Philomina Trout – Madysen Waid

Camera Man – Garret Yohr

James – A.J. Elm

Matilda – Rylynn Eskildsen

Oompa-Loompas – Lili Liegl, Cora Lederer, Emily Schmidt, Isabelle Elandt, Kayla Cain, Morgan Krueger, Nevaeh Johnson, Rylynn Eskildsen

Chorus of Cooks and Townspeople – Alex Bartel, Brianna Hagen, Erinn Manteufel, Heidi Klinger, Kimberly Schield-Conradt, Patrick Bauer, Martha Elandt, Kimberly Drost, Garrett Yohr, A.J. Elm

Squirrels – Brianna Hagen, Martha Elandt, Patrick Bauer, Kimberly Shield-Conradt, Heidi Klinger

Orchestra: Conductor – John Kelley; flute – Ann Stevens; reeds – Davin Schwartz, Kari Schwartz; violins – Emily Sipiorski, Jill Winch; cello – Emily Loper; French horn – Jane Ryder; trumpet – Terry Winch; trombone – Trea Kimball; keyboards – Wanda Eikenbary, Connor McCausland; bass – Ray Kilanowski; percussion – Joe McCausland

Running time: Two hours

Remaining performances: 2 p.m. July 28; 7 p.m. Aug. 1, 2, 3; 2 p.m. Aug. 4

Info: fineartsfestival.org/waupaca-community-theatre/

***

Musical numbers

Act I

“Pure Imagination” – Willy Wonka

“Golden Age of Chocolate” – Wonka, Cast

“The Candy Man” – James, Matilda, Candy Man, Cast

“I Eat More” – Augustus, Mrs. Gloop, Philomena, Cast

“Think Positive” – Charlie, Mr. Bucket

“I See It All on TV” – Mike, Mrs. Teavee, Philomena

“Cheer Up, Charlie” – Grandpa Joe, Mr. and Mrs. Bucket, Grandparents

“Think Positive” (Reprise) – Charlie

“I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” – Charlie, Cast

Act II

“At the Gates” – Willy Wonka

“In This Room Here” – Wonka, Winners

“Oompa-Loompa 1” – Augustus, Oompa-Loompas

“There’s No Knowing” – Wonka, Parents

“Chew It” – Violet, Wonka, Winners

“Oompa-Loompa 2” – Violet, Oompa-Loompas

“Flying” – Charlie, Grandpa Joe

“Burping” – Charlie, Grandpa Joe

“I Want It Now!” – Veruca, Cast

“Oompa-Loompa 3” – Veruca, Oompa-Loompas

“Oompa-Loompa 4” – Mike, Oompa-Loompas

“Flying” (Reprise) – Charlie, Grandpa Joe, Wonka

“Finale” – Wonka, Charlie, Bucket Family, Cast

***

THE VENUE: Located at E2325 King Road, the large-scale Waupaca High School was completed in 2000. Its auditorium/Performing Arts Center features a spacious aura, with a high ceiling and wide seating area for more than 600. The ceiling is an array of angled rectangles with tan wood rims around dark red (acoustical?) tiles. The walls are very geometrical in design – tan wood, with bricks of reds and gray. Textured gray cement block forms a slightly convex wall for the orchestra pit/stage front. The stage is wide and high with a large dark red curtain. The place looks built to impress.

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