by ADAM GRUENEWALD
Central students will be bringing to life a familiar story this weekend with performances of Willy Wonka.
The familiar 1964 novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and subsequent films, one in 1971 and Tim Burton’s 2005 adaptation, highlight the story of a young boy who wins a golden ticket to tour the factory of a famous chocolatier, Willy Wonka. The play was written by Tim McDonald and Leslie Bricusse.
Theater director Brian Isles, in his second year teaching English, said he chose the story, with its special effects and great characters and songs to help spur interest in the theater department.
“I wanted to do something that would appeal to a larger mass,” he said. “I really wanted to get our name out there and I want to get people excited to see these shows.”
Uniquely, the play, which has been rehearsed since late-September, will also grow the program because it features a cast of 40 students, including about 15 middle school students.
“We have to kind of rebuild our program,” said Isles. “We’re losing a lot of good seniors this year and we’re trying to bring up upperclassmen to step up. It’s going to be a challenge. But I think by doing shows like this, we’re really going to raise it.”
The experience is paying off for the younger students as they expand on Middle School musical experiences and learn to hit their marks, know the blocking and fine tune their singing.
“It’s intense for them.” he said. “I can see that, but I can see them really enjoying it. I see the lights going off in their heads, like this is what I’m supposed to do. It’s definitely a learning experience for them.”
Most are playing Oompa Loompas but some, like Gwen Stacy, who plays Violet’s mom, are taking on larger roles.
“She’s just this young little girl, but she’s got this powerful voice and it’s like she’s meant to be on stage,” said Isles. “She’s a blast to watch. She’s one of those people when I cast her, I can’t wait for the crowd to see her and she what she does with it.”
The play is not without its challenges though, because it includes the iconic moments of fizzy drinks, Veruca falling down and Violet turning into a blueberry, all of which involve thoughtful staging.
“It’s got the iconic moments and it’s just so much fun to watch it come to life on stage and watch the kids take it,” said Isles.
In addition to bringing in a real fiberglass boat, the department added a cable pulley system hooked up to a winch, which can be used for future shows.
“We’re also lifting people now,” he said. “Finding the logistics of how do you lift someone up safely and how do you make it convincing? That’s what we’re playing with right now… It’s an experiment in and of itself but it’s exciting. It’s a lot of fun watching them go up in the air.”
In addition to Alex Kayser, who plays the title role/Candy Man, Jon Braunwarth portrays Charlie Bucket and Erich Dettmann plays Grandpa Joe.
Braunwarth, a senior, has also been in The Crucible, Little Shop of Horrors and a One Act, and is enjoying the experience despite the challenges of singing and his large role on stage.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said.
Dettmann, a senior who was in the One Act play and 12 Angry Jurors, among others, also enjoys the experience.
“It’s a lot of work, but it keeps me busy,” he said. “Seeing it come together and seeing everyone perform an ensemble has been… a lot of challenges mixed with fun.”
It also gives Dettmann a chance to meet younger students he may not have met otherwise.
“It’s a lot of fun to meet all the people,” he said. “At first it seemed like they were really nervous because everyone was older than them, but I feel like they’ve kind of been accepted into our group.”
The large group of actors were nearing performances, the nights Dettmann was looking forward to.
“I like to see all the other characters and my character develop from when you first get them to the last show,” he said. “It’s just kind of becoming one to fully mesh with the characters and understanding how your character would react to things happening on stage.”
In addition to Braunwarth and Dettmann, fellow ticket winners and their guardians include Nathan Goetz (Augustus Gloop), Brooke Vos (Mrs. Gloop), Libby Baumgartener (Veruca Salt), Kaytlin Sellner (Mrs. Salt), Nicole Johnson (Violet Beauregarde), Gwen Stacy (Mrs. Beauregarde), Zach Howard (Mike Teavee) and Alyssa Heher (Ms. Teavee).
Baumgartner, a junior, has been acting since she played an Ozian in the Wizard of Oz summer play when she was 12.
That experience is helping her adjust to the new younger cast, which she said was difficult at first.
“We do a lot of warm-up games and a lot of them didn’t know them at first,” she said. “We took time to teach them and get them ingratiated into the theater family. I think now it’s good. We’re doing it together as a cast and its really fun to have new people in the theater program to meet.”
As the spoiled Veruca, she drew upon her experiences working with kids, and has also had to practice a British accent.
Whether with her parents or in the car, the practice is paying off and it’s enjoyable, similar to her previous acting experiences.
“I just really like the idea of being able to tell a story through what you’re saying and how you’re portraying somebody else and you interpret it,” she said. “Like how you compared it to somebody who played it before and getting a new angle on the story. It’s fun to tell a story.”
Members of the Bucket family include Luke Kleindl (Mr. Bucket), Tori Stacken (Mrs. Bucket), Dani Tordsen (Grandma Josephina), Sydney Montgomery (Grandma Georgina) and Steeven Smith (Grandpa George).
Also part of the main cast are Josh Hendel (Phineous Trout), Shelby Kutil (Jamie) and Gaby Llerena (Matilda).
Members of the Oompa Loompa chorus include Olivia Anderson, Tatyana Buckner, Sophie Olson, Kaylena Sutherland, Alex Farrell, Mikaylin Goetz, Madison Kling, Madison Stieve, Hannah Stieve, Faith Schug, Dani Schmieg, Rachel Holliday, Gaby Llerena, Crystal Claeys, Allison Hoen, Hayden Molva, Emma Kling, Tayana Freeman, Tatyanna Buckner, Kennedy Pexa and Sam Meeker.
Supporting adults are Isles, Melissa Isles and Doug Kayser as set designers, Jeri Kayser as costume designer and Emily Dyess as music director.
Show dates are Nov. 14 to 16 at 7 p.m. with tickets on sale at Central High School.
“This is one of those things where it might be an 11th hour pulling this together,” said Isles. “But they’re going to pull this off and it’s going to be a heck of a show. I can’t wait to see it.”
Contact Adam Gruenewald at firstname.lastname@example.org.