The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka
Organization El Dorado Musical Theatre
Date(s) of show July 7 - 16, 2017
Reviewer Dick Frantzreb
Review Opening night for an El Dorado Musical Theatre production is always exciting, and that seemed especially true of this opening night of Raold Dahl's Willie Wonka. In fact, the audience was so psyched that they clapped in time to the overture as it played in the still-dark theater.

They were right to be excited. I'm sure that many were thinking about the 1971 movie, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. That film was a visual masterpiece: colorful, clever and inventive, with an iconic performance by Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka. On this night we would be seeing a stage version that debuted on Broadway in 2004, based not only on the original book and the film, but with some new material. Excitement aside, could EDMT reproduce the magic of the movie that so many of us remember so well? You bet they could.

I'll confess that my expectations were initially lowered because this was to be a Rising Stars production, meaning that all the performers would be between the ages of 6 and 13. But those lowered expectations were demolished when 13-year-old Ty Rhoades in the title role of Willie Wonka began the show singing Pure Imagination.”  His voice was strong and expressive, and his delivery confident. As the show proceeded, I found his acting (and dancing) were inspired. It even seemed that I could often see him channeling the enigmatic, inscrutable performance of Gene Wilder. At one point in the second act, he appeared at the top of a raised section of the stage, and sang in subdued lighting as a totally believable, shaky, old person. Then the lighting changed, you could see he was dressed in bright colors, and he transformed into someone decades younge. It was a stunning effect. Frankly, it's hard to imagine an adult playing this part better.  But this show is double-cast, and there's another Willy Wonka (Joey Baciocco) who, I bet, would be similarly impressive.

Another surprising performance on this opening night came from Josh Davis in the key role of Charlie Bucket. He's small for a 12-year-old, making him perfect for the part, with a fine voice that hasn't changed. He brought great personality to his role, and rounding out his portfolio as an actor, I felt that he moved exceptionally well.  And the duet he danced with Mr. Bucket (Brandon Bagley) was delightful. You look at him and you think, “That kid's really got talent.”  Clearly, the audience agreed: at one point Josh got spontaneous applause for his dancing.

I wish I had the space here to acknowledge all those who had speaking parts because they all did so well, making you forget that none of them was yet of high school age. Through most of the show the 4 grandparents are in one bed together, which is funny in and of itself. But hard-of-hearing Grandpa George was the source of a lot of funny lines, and I marveled at the comic timing of the 7-way dialog among Charlie, his parents and the grandparents. They had the audience laughing throughout the show, but they practically brought the house down when, late in the show, they all jumped out of bed and danced.

Each of the Gold Ticket winners had a fault (gluttonous, spoiled, excessive gum-chewing, excessive TV watching/video game playing). The young actors in these roles really embraced their parts, delivering all the outrageous over-acting that their character demanded. I kept thinking it must be great fun for these kids to be so determinedly naughty. Their parents, too, were well played, with accents and characterizations that made this incredible plot at least a little credible.

There were 60+ young performers in this show, and I have to believe this was an intense experience for all of them. There were many of what one might call production numbers in which they were all on stage, each appearance involving a costume change, a different choreographed routine, and ensemble singing, which sounded remarkably good. In one of these numbers, “In This Room Here,” it struck me that the stage was alive, sizzling with energy of all those kids with non-speaking parts who seemed so excited and committed to the number. Another of these production numbers, “I've Got a Golden Ticket,” was so impressive that it drew cheers and long applause.

I saw excellence in each aspect of this production: good solo and ensemble singing, cute choreography (especially in “Candy Man”), imaginative costumes, elaborate set pieces (such as the motorized bed for the grandparents and the other items that defined their room). And as is increasingly the case in EDMT shows, the projections were extraordinary. In the very first scene, I noticed how the projections on the side walls gave the stage a lot of depth. In fact the projections were as responsible as any other element for making this a dazzling show. The movie offered different sets to show the various rooms of the candy factory. Tonight that was accomplished by brilliantly clever, animated projections. They brought to life so many different features of the story (a chocolate river, a shrinking room, characters flying). Then there was the scene where Charlie and Grandpa Joe are floating in the air from “fizzy lifting drinks.”  In the projection behind them, we saw familiar characters whizzing by: Mary Poppins, Dorothy (from The Wizard of Oz), Aladdin, Pete's Dragon, etc. I think I can speak for the rest of the audience when I say that we were charmed. Amid all the good singing, acting, and dancing, costumes, etc., time and again it felt like it was the projections that made the magic.

There’s magic, and then there’s humor. There was lots of clever dialog in this exuberant show, and we in the audience were laughing throughout. Enhancing the clever dialog were many cute, funny touches.  For example, gluttonous Augustus Gloop (who delivered a credible German accent) got exercise by jumping rope with a rope made of sausages, and when he did something well, his mother placed a piece of candy in his mouth, as one would do when training a dog. There were many sight gags like this throughout the show, along with humorous references to contemporary culture, and a bit local humor.

It all made for a delightful evening. Of course, it was the professionals working behind the scenes who set all this up: Producer Alicia Soto, Director Debbie Wilson, Choreographer Kat Bahry, Vocal Director Heather Clark, Costume Designer Karen McConnell plus a long list of adults who lend their special skills. But you won’t see them. What you’ll see is 60 kids, bursting with talent and energy. Watch them perform for 2 hours and you’ll get a feeling that no movie can give you.

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