BY MICHAELA MARX WHEATLEY
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Whidbey Children’s Theater invites audiences to indulge in a special sweet treat this holiday season.
In Roald Dahl’s “Willy Wonka Junior,” which opens Friday, Dec. 7, the young cast of Whidbey Children’s Theater will take audiences along on the world’s strangest factory tour guided by the most eccentric, yet best-loved candy maker of all time.
“Willy Wonka has always been a favorite. Every year as a kid I would wait for it to come on TV. It was so exciting and then I fell asleep before the movie ended,” director Ken Martinez said. “It was my favorite book. Seeing it put up on stage is great.”
Whidbey Children’s Theater transitions into new leadership this season, with Martinez becoming the artistic director to replace Rose Woods, who recently stepped down. It was Woods who selected “Willy Wonka” when she put together the theater company’s “Season of Magic and Enchantment” for 2012-2013 and Martinez is delighted to see it all come together.
In this musical stage adaptation of Dahl’s book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” a world-famous candy manufacturer named Willy Wonka stages a contest in his quest to find an heir to his legacy. He hides five golden tickets in five of his candy bars. Whoever finds a golden ticket will win a tour of the Wonka factory, as well as a lifetime supply of candy. Turns out that four of the five children who win tickets are insufferable brats. The fifth winner is a likeable boy named Charlie Bucket, who comes from a poor but loving family. The children follow Wonka through his enchanting factory and learn this: Follow the rules — or suffer the consequences.
Martinez directs 28 young actors in this production, which features songs from the movie. He cast Sawyer Mark as Charlie Bucket, who seems to be a natural fit for the role with a stage presence beyond his years. Caelen Coe takes the role of Willy Wonka, and captures Wonka’s spirit perfectly.
Coe said it is his first leading role.
“I will be a little bit nervous opening night,” he admitted.
But his love for acting makes up for it.
“What I like most is getting to be somebody you aren’t,” Coe explained, adding that he likes the singing and the music most in this play.
But he does have one complaint.
“There is a lot of chocolate in this play and I never get to eat any,” Coe said.
For a certain generation, it’s hard to disconnect the childhood memories of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka in the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” or even the more recent portrayal of the role by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s 2005 film, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” However, the director taught his actors an important lesson before they started rehearsals: Forget everything you know.
“I asked the kids if they had seen the movie,” Martinez said. “Then I told them ‘OK, now take this all out of your head.’”
Then he encouraged his cast to put their own stamp on the characters.
“The kids definitely made the characters their own,” he said.
The familiar plot and colorful characters of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” are given fresh appeal in this junior stage adaption, which was written to accommodate the abilities of young actors, as well as the shoe-string budget of youth productions.
“It’s about chocolate and candy, but it has some good morals around it,” Martinez said.
In addition, Martinez added a few nods to the holiday season to the Whidbey Children’s Theater production in lieu of its December show dates.
Dahl’s “Willy Wonka Junior” features a memorable song score by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Martinez said there is familiar music from the musical movie, as well as some funny new songs created for this edition of the show.
“You’ll hum along with the familiar songs — and leave humming the new ones as well,” Martinez said.
Bring the kids.
Willy Wonka runs Dec. 7 through Dec. 22; at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for seniors and $12 for adults. For tickets, call 360-221-2282. To learn more, visit www.whidbeychildrenstheater.org.
Upcoming shows and auditions at WCT for the “SEASON OF MAGIC AND ENCHANTMENT”:
“Disney’s Aladdin” (Elementary): Directed by Ken Martinez. Auditions: Jan. 8, 2013; opens March 1, closes March 10.
“The Little Prince” (Middle School): Directed by Ahna Dunn-Wilder. Auditions: March 12, 2013; opens April 26, closes May 5.
“The Wizard of Oz” (High School): Directed by Melanie Lowey. Auditions: March 18, 2013; opens May 17, closes June 2.
“Once on This Island” (Choochokam): Directed by Matt Bell. Auditions: June 4, 2013; opens June 28, closes July 14.
Michaela Marx Wheatley is a freelance journalist who has worked as a reporter/writer in the U.S. and her native Germany. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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