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
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.