Vienna Theatre Company Willy WonkaBy Bob Ashby • May 2nd, 2014 • Category: Reviews
Vienna Theatre Company: (Info) (Web)
Vienna Community Center, Vienna, VA
Through May 4th
2:00, with intermission
Reviewed April 27th, 2014
Starting with the 1964 Roald Dahl children’s book and the 1971 movie adaptation starring Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka has been beloved by dentists for five decades now, celebrating as it does the compulsive consumption of cavity-creating confections. The uneven Vienna Theatre Company (VTC) production of the stage musical version retains considerable charm.
The title character, played by Sedrick Moody, is a misanthropic, mysterious candy magnate. Singing winningly and moving beautifully, Moody makes Wonka something of a song and dance man. The device motivating the plot is Wonka’s desire to retire and turn the factory’s operations over to some deserving child. Moody’s Wonka seems rather young to be contemplating retirement, but he nonetheless sets in motion a scheme to put coupons in five candy bars the finders of which will get a free tour of the factory — which otherwise is as closed to outsiders as, say, CIA headquarters — plus a lifetime supply of chocolate. This proves a brilliant marketing ploy, sending sales of his products skyrocketing.
The first four coupons find their way into the hands of a quartet of obnoxious children: Mike Teavee (Tashi Poe), joined at the hip to his electronic devices; Augustus Gloop (Erik Payton, ironically the smallest, slimmest child in the cast), who never stops eating; Violet Beauregarde (Kaia Griggs), a Georgia rich kid addicted to chewing gum; and Veruca Salt (Amelia Lindsey), the most spoiled brat of the lot. Each has a solo acting and/or singing moment to shine, most notably Lindsey in “I Want it Now,” in which she displays a promising belt voice.
The final coupon is found, at the last moment, by the show’s child lead, Charlie Bucket (Adam LeKang). Charlie, a classic “good kid,” lives with his unemployed parents (Alex Graur and Toby Nelson) and highly sedentary grandparents (Emily Franks, Nora Zanger, Joseph LeBlanc, and Bob Maurer) who appear never to leave the cramped bed they share. LeKang sings well, especially in his second act duet with Maurer (“Flying/Burping Song”), and is he able to move (he even taps a bit).
The show runs only two hours, but the pace frequently feels slow. Much of this is built into the structure of the show. When the four grandparents never move from their bed, with other characters sandwiched in behind them, it is hard to avoid their book scenes becoming tediously static. Moreover, the script seems to revel in repetition. LeBlanc’s character is hard-of-hearing, a trait LeBlanc handles very well, with fine energy and timing. But the audience must endure one similar hard-of-hearing joke after another for lengthy stretches of the first act. Likewise, in the second act, the Oompa-Loompas, Wonka’s factory workers (Melissa Handel, Hannah Hess, Mia Parnaby, Faith Skeen, and Kyla Poe), sing essentially the same chorus five times. The Oompa-Loompas’ singing and dancing are well performed. Here, as in other portions of the play, choreographer Rosslyn Fernandez creates movement that the children in the cast can execute but that keeps matters reasonably lively. By the third, fourth, or fifth time through, however, it’s hard to shake a feeling of “been there, done that.”
Generally, the show’s musical score is lackluster. With the exception of the lively “The Candy Man,” well sung by Daniel Marin, the songs, however capably performed by the cast, are readily forgettable. The production’s “musical village” accompanies the singers successfully.
The production makes extensive use of projections (designed by Jon Roberts) and videos. The videos, featuring breathless TV newsman Phineous Trout (Wayne Jacques) interviewing the four obnoxious contest winners and their equally annoying mothers, are among the funniest moments in the show. In the second act, projections representing the interior of the candy factory (picturing moving bubbles and various tinker toy-like pipes for the ingredients, for example) are inventive and effective, though the first act projection of a working-class neighborhood street is often too dim to be seen clearly. Tom Epps’ lighting design is inconsistent, at some points illuminating the action well but at others leaving characters (especially Wonka himself) in overly dim light or partially washing out the projections.
The biggest technical fault of the day involved sound operation. While having the occasional strong moment — the burping for Charlie and his grandfather in act two comes to mind — the soundscape was regularly marred by inconsistent mike levels, late execution of sound cues (Charlie’s father was a noticeable victim of this problem in parts of the first act), distortion, and feedback. Hopefully these problems can be fixed for the production’s final weekend.
The first act set (designed by Leta Fitzhugh) is dominated by a drab room where the Bucket family resides, with one flat that various actors move forward or backward to mark scene changes. The second act set, representing the factory, is appropriately more colorful and fun, featuring a multicolored plastic conduit and see-saw like pieces that Charlie and his grandfather use in “Flying.” A similar point can be made about the costumes (designed by Judy Whelihan, Kati Andersen, and Michael Panganiban). In the first act, the costumes are mostly drab and uninteresting; many of the children appear to be wearing their own clothes, for one thing. In the second act, things become more colorful, with the variously hued Oompa-Loompas (whose costumes appear to be fitted around hula hoops) being a visual high point. Wonka wears a black tux-like outfit and looks good in it.
As a show featuring young actors and based on a well-known children’s book, Willy Wonka is obviously designed to appeal to kids. The children in the audience reacted enthusiastically to much of the show, which is a principal mark of success for such a production.
Since you are reading the Director’s Note, you wondered why this program has “See Director’s Note” on the “Music Director” line in the Production Team list and has another indication for a “Music Village” with names following it. I’ll explain. For reasons there is no need to get into, the person who was to be the music director for this show let us know that he would be unable to fulfill that commitment the day before auditions for the show. My dear friend, Larry Zimmerman, and Scott Richards, a new friend I made in the course of the previous VTC Show, This, got us through auditions. Larry agreed to continue with the show but he would not be able to take on the full responsibility of music director since he would be unavailable for rehearsals for about a month. We were ready to replace this show with a non-musical or cancel the VTC spring show entirely. Then, my indefatigable producer, Jocelyn Steiner, announced that we WOULD do the show even if it “took a village” to put the music together. My indomitable stage manager, Colleen Stock, reinforced Jocelyn’s vision. I got caught up in their commitment and enthusiasm. The entire design team jumped aboard the “village” bandwagon and we vowed that we would bring this show to the stage. We asked all of the music directors we knew-and some we didn’t know-if anyone could step in. But it was a very last minute request and music directors are booked at least a year in advance. Everyone was already involved in a show or exhausted from a show just completed. Beth Atkins, a fine music director in her own right, had been on board to help with Willy Wonka from the beginning and agreed to continue with the show but was unable to take on the full job of music director. Francine Krasowska, another great music director, also agreed to help out. Led by these three stars, the cast, crew and design team became the village that has indeed brought life to Willy Wonka. It has been an extraordinary experience and is a testament to commitment, creativity and plain, old hard work on everyone’s part. Enjoy the show-it has taken a village of dedicated people to make the magic happen!
Photos by Jessica Sperlongano
- Augustus Gloop: Erik Peyton
- Candy Man: Daniel Marin
- Charlie Bucket: Adam LeKang
- Grandma Georgina: Emily Franks
- Grandma Josephine: Nora Zanger
- Grandpa George: Joseph LeBlanc
- Grandpa Joe: Bob Maurer
- Mike Teavee: Tashi Poe
- Mr. Bucket: Alex Graur
- Mrs. Salt: Toby Nelson
- Mrs. Beauregarde: Emily Franks
- Mrs. Bucket: Toby Nelson
- Mrs. Gloop: Kimberly Baker
- Ms. Teavee: Nora Zanger
- Oompa-Loompa: Melissa Handel
- Oompa-Loompa: Hannah Hess
- Oompa-Loompa: Mia Parnaby
- Oompa-Loompa: Kyla Poe
- Oompa-Loompa: Faith Skeen
- Oompa-Loompa: Kathryn Skeen
- Phineous Trout: Wayne Jacques
- Veruca Salt: Amelia Lindsey
- Violet Beauregarde: Kaia Griggs
- Willy Wonka: Sedrick Moody
- Producer: Jocelyn Steiner
- Director: Jessie Roberts
- Choreographer: Rosslyn Fernandez
- Assistant Stage Manager: Jay Stein
- Lighting Designer: Tom Epps
- Sound Designer: Jon Roberts
- Music Director: See Director’s Note
- Music Village
- Keyboard: Larry Zimmerman, Francine Krasowska, Beth Atkins
- Violinist: Kristina Westernik
- Percussionist: Abel Ruiz
- Vocal Coach: Janice Zucker
- Projection Designer: Jon Roberts
- Graphic Designer: Michael Philip Panganiban
- Set Designer/Scenic Artist: Leta Fitzhugh
- Construction Coordinator: John Vasko
- Properties: Suzanne Maloney
- Set Dressing: Jocelyn Steiner
- Costume Designers: Judy Whelihan, Katie Andresen
- Hair and Make-up: Erica Longshore
- Set Construction Crew: John Vasko, Jon Roberts, Jessie Roberts, Samantha Poe, Jocelyn Steiner, Kaia Griggs, Hannah Hess, Diane Hess, Tracey Todd, Mikala Baker, Jay Stein
- Lighting Crew: Tom Epps, Kimberly Crago
- Costume Crew: Francoise Davis
- Set Painting Crew: Leta Fitzhugh, Mikala Baker, Hannah Hess, Diane Hess, Samantha Poe, Kaia Griggs, Anna Balch, Wayne Jacques, Denise Perrino, Vanessa Peyton, Kyla Poe
- Photographers: Jessica Sperlongano, Vanessa Peyton
- Program Design: Mary Ann Hall
- Light Board Operators: Kimberly Crago, Eric Stork, Kieth Flores
- Stage Crew: Mikala Baker
Disclaimer: Vienna Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review. VTC also purchased advertising on the ShowBizRadio web site, which did not influence this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/10382.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.