News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
Theater: The Sweet Life Of Willy Wonka
BY COLLETTE CAPRARA
FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Families will be fascinated by the convoluted candy-creating machines of that legendary chocolate factory as the cast and crew of Riverside Children’s Theater bring the tale of “Willy Wonka Jr.” to life onstage.
The production’s bright colors, flashing gizmos and lively choreography, as well as the humorous but instructive ditties of the Oompa Loompas, are sure to delight children young and old.
“For me, the magic of ‘Willy Wonka’ is in the same category as ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” said Barbara Cochran, who is co-directing the production with her husband, Mel. “We are doing our very best to make it come alive with the colors of the candy and to transport the audience to that enchanted world.”
As the action begins, Willy Wonka, the reclusive magnate, has decided to open the doors of his secretive factory to the children who produce the golden tickets tucked into five chocolate bars among thousands. Of these, one will not only be the winner of a lifetime supply of candy but will also be entrusted with the keys to the factory as Willy’s heir.
One by one, the first four winners are announced, and they are a motley mix of greedy and self-centered children: a voracious German food gobbler, a gum-smacking Southern belle, a TV-and-video-game addict and an impossible-to-please, upper-crust aristocrat. But into that mix comes Charlie Bucket, a caring boy of unflappable optimism who lives with his impoverished extended family in a humble abode.
As Willy hosts the contenders on a tour of his factory and shows off his impressive inventions, he warns the children not to partake of any delicacies that are not offered to them.
One by one, each of the first four ticket holders succumbs to the lure of their favorite treat. They are then banished from the factory by Willy’s crew of Oompa Loompas, who issue advisories to children (“What do you get from a glut of TV? A pain in the neck and an IQ of 3!”) and even to parents (“Who do you blame when your kid is a brat, pampered and spoiled like a Siamese cat?”).
But then Charlie himself can’t resist taking a sip in the Fizzy Drink room. Yet Charlie’s defining difference is his honesty, and when he confides to Willy that he sampled a drink, he is announced as the contest winner and his entire family is invited to live in the factory.
Each of the cast members convincingly portrays their character, and the Cochrans even gave language tapes to help them with their accents.
With finesse reminiscent of Joel Grey’s “Cabaret” emcee, Kylie Clark shines as Willy—the personality who, as she says, “embodies the magic of the factory.” A veteran actor as well as prop pro, Clark portrays Willy’s pride in his candy contraptions in a way that rings especially true since she did personally design, for example, the Everlasting Gobstopper machine.
Kylie’s Willy plays perfectly with Charlie Bucket, portrayed by Josh Otten—a 10-year-old with both main-stage and children’s theater productions under his belt. Josh’s own unbridled enthusiasm shines through in Charlie’s effervescent “Think positive!” mantra, and his heel-kicking jump for joy is authentic.
“Lately, when I do the show, I really feel like I am Charlie,” he said.
That may also be due in no small part to his investment and effort. His mother, Tamara, explains that Josh is taking tap, ballet and jazz dance lessons to enhance his performance onstage, and both the Cochrans and Clark attest to the hard work he gives in every production.
Tamara Otten adds that that investment is returned by all the folks at Riverside Theater and its atmosphere of family-like support and care. This production, in particular, is permeated with that family feeling in multiple ways.
The cast includes the father–daughter team of Dave and Becca Law (with mom Gaye crafting costumes) and siblings Nick and Emma Kahane. And Josh’s mom and younger brother, Danny, join him onstage as Gramma Josephina and an Oompa Loompa, respectively.
In addition, the husband–wife team of Mel and Barbara Cochran carry on a tradition launched by Riverside Children’s Theater founders and directors Steve and Mary Thompson. (One last familial note: The Cochrans are dedicating this production to their grandchildren, Lex and Lucy.)
What: “Willy Wonka Jr.”
Where: Riverside Children’s Theater, 95 Riverside Parkway, (off Sanford Drive, first traffic light on U.S. 17 north after I–95 intersection) Falmouth
When: Through July 21. Saturdays: 1 p.m. lunch, 2 p.m. performance. Selected Tuesdays and Thursdays: 10:15 a.m. lunch, 11:30 a.m.
performance. (Call for specific performance dates.)
Cost: Saturday matinées $16 (lunch and show); Tuesdays and Thursdays $12 (show only, please bring bag lunch).
Info/reservations: Call 540/370-4300 or visit riversidedt.com (Children’s Theater)
Collette Caprara is a local artist and writer.