“Willy Wonka: The Musical” returns to the stage at Unity in an all-new production featuring a livewire cast of adults and young performers.
The story is a familiar one, based on the 1964 novel, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” by Roald Dahl, but best known for the 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder, then a 2005 version with Johnny Depp.
The films focused on the bizarre personality of Willy Wonka, who takes five children into his candy factory and virtually does four of them in. This Kelrik show is more about the kids and is fueled by youthful energy.
Charlie Bucket, whose family is on the edge of poverty, yearns to discover one of five golden tickets hidden in a candy bar. The ticket will win him a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
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The first act of the musical deals with his search for the ticket and introduces the kids who will win the opportunity to tour the factory. The second act is a colorful excursion through an array of candy-making magic, when four of the kids disobey Mr. Wonka and pay the price.
This musical version by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse has 20 tuneful songs, including “The Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination,” two of the most memorable. The cast and charming ensemble of young singers and dancers is directed and choreographed by Erik Austin, with musical direction by Lacey McNamara. There are seven Candy Kids and 16 Oompa Loompas who work in the candy factory. The Oompa Loompas, who include some quite young children, wear glowing green wigs and are delightful as they sing and dance, but the Oompa Loompa song may stick in your head for days.
Lester Wilson is a rather low-key Willy Wonka compared to some others who have played the part. He’s not as manic and goofy as director Erik Austin was in the role a few years ago. Wilson plays Wonka more as a sly trickster.
Isabel Carpenter is Charlie. Dressed in a boyish outfit, she looks the part, and she has a fine, strong singing voice. Kerry Mayling is sweet as Charlie’s mother.
All of the kids who tour the factory are well played. Sawyer McSorley, with a padded tummy, is Augustus Gloop, the boy who loves to eat, and Debora Schwartz plays his overindulgent mother. Nadia Schwartz-Bolef is a hoot as the snooty Veruca Salt, the least likable of the kids. She gives the role a bratty intensity.
Violet Beauregarde, the girl who chews gum all the time and ends up turning blue, is played with a southern accent by Graciela Maldonado. Jayce Garcia is Mike TeeVee, the boy who lives his life through television and computers and ends up 3 inches tall. He has a fine voice and strong stage presence. Sue Skanes plays his mother.
Wade Tillotson is a cheerful Candy Man, and Phil Epstein is good as Phineous Trout, the radio newsman.
The set reverses from the first-act cityscape projected onto screens to the second act’s fanciful candy factory. The Unity theater has new lights, and along with some special effects, there’s a little magic in the factory.
“Willy Wonka” is fun for kids of all ages and is the kind of theater experience that may inspire youngsters, who see their peers onstage, to want to try it themselves. The theater was full, so plan ahead.
This show and Kelrik’s “After Dark” production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” are running simultaneously for a while, and they couldn’t be more different. “Willy Wonka” is a family fun experience, suitable for even young children. The music is singable and light. “Sweeney Todd” is an adult show, a dark, murderous tale, and the music is intense, telling the story with high drama. Doing both of them at the same time is quite a feat.