DRAPER — If I had to describe Draper Historic Theatre’s performance of the musical Willy Wonka with one word, “fun” is what comes to mind. It was easy to see that the young, exuberant cast was having fun on stage. The audience—full of families and youth—were having fun through the whole production. In the words of director, Emily Decker, “I have always thought that live theater is a little bit… well, magical, and a lot of fun. There is a reason it’s called a play. For a short time we get to be a child again, let go of reality, and set our imaginations free. Willy Wonka is the perfect setting to explore childhood again.” Draper Historic Theatre definitely reached this goal of inviting the audience to enjoy their youth or feel young again.
Willy Wonka is based on the well-known children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. This story revolves around a young boy, Charlie Buckets, who wins a contest along with four other children, to tour the magical and mysterious Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. Charlie finds himself on quite the adventurous tour with the eccentric Willy Wonka as his guide and soon discovers the wacky world of this candy factory. In the end, he learns that integrity and honesty win the true prize.
Willy Wonka was an entertaining evening, to say the least. While the Draper Historic Theatre is a small, community theater it was bustling with energy during this production. I give credit to the large cast of children on stage. It was enjoyable to see the children deliver their lines and perform their musical numbers with enthusiasm. While perusing through the program, I saw that for many cast members they had not had too many experiences on stage. With this in mind, I was even more impressed with their performance.
One cast member who really shined was Grayson O’very who played the part of Charlie Bucket. O’very nailed his lines and flawlessly portrayed the sweet and helpful character of Charlie Bucket. I also felt that the endearing relationship between Charlie and his Grandpa Joe (Joey Calkins) was depicted very well. Andrew J. Clayson did a great job as the unconventional Willy Wonka. He put his own twist on this off-the-wall character, which is such an important focal point of this story. However, at times he leaned too much to the cranky side of Willy Wonka. The magic of Willy Wonka is not knowing what he will do next. Playing up one side of his character too much seemed a little off-balanced, in my opinion. Other characters that really stood out to me were Mrs. Gloop (Annette Schiess) and Augustus Gloop (Ike Gardiner). This duo had me cracking up every time they were on stage.
While this was a fine and well-produced production, I felt the cast could work a bit on professionalism. Having young cast members out and about before the show and not starting on time at the beginning or after the intermission gives the feeling of disorganization. Also, with such a young and amateur cast little details like saying lines loudly could be worked on. While the music was enjoyable, some of the chorus numbers seemed a little weak, especially the finale. I’m sure the performers were tired, but to give it one last shot, to singing out and to hold their parts would raise the quality of the musical performance.
Overall, I would say that “Willy Wonka” at the Draper Historic Theatre is a fun night out for the whole family. It is always a great experience to support local talent and be entertained at the same time. Be sure to get your tickets soon, because Friday and Saturday are the final performances for this musical.