'Wonka' to bring wonder to Washington

"In your wildest dreams you cannot imagine the surprises that await you!" reads the message on Charlie Bucket's golden ticket, which gives him entrance into the Willy Wonka factory and a world of wonder.
Audiences the world over are familiar with the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and now local audiences will have a golden opportunity to see the story told by young local actors.

UpStage Productions and Valley City State University's Community School of the Arts Children's Choir will bring the play "Willy Wonka" to the Washington Elementary School stage Friday, April 13 and Saturday April 14. Performances will take place at 7:30 nightly, and tickets are $8 for adults, $6.50 for children.

The show will feature many familiar favorites, including the Oompa-Loompas, a kooky cast of spoiled kids touring the Wonka factory, and some of the original songs from the 1971 film.

"It's the same story line and the same characters, just a little different interpretation on some of them," said co-director Amy Tahran.

Fourth grader Josh Vachal, who enjoys singing and performing, said that the play is very similar to the original Willy Wonka movie, not the more recent film starring Johnny Depp.
"The newer Willy Wonka -- that guy creeps me out," Vachal said. "Our Willy Wonka is fun and silly."

Amber Bruyea, a third grader who said 'Wonka' will be her first play, tried out because, in her words, "I wanted to see how a real play works."

The production features 35 cast members, ranging in age from grade three through adults.
Tahran said they have been practicing since the second week in March, three times a week, but often all the elements of the play, including costumes and set pieces, don't come together until the final week.

"Once they get costumes and it feels a little more real, they'll pull it all together," said co-director Jennifer Jenness.
Jenness is filling in the role of Mrs. Gloop, and several older actors are filling key roles to provide guidance to their younger cast members.

"I definitely feel a lot more pressure," said 22-year-old Steven Thomas, who plays the title character. He said his role as an older actor is to help keep things moving along.
"So I'm the stick in the mud," he joked.

When it comes down to it, 'Willy Wonka' is all about having fun and staying young at heart.

"We have such a good time with these kids," said Jenness. "They put in so much hard work, and it's just fun to see them grow onstage."