OREM — As I situated my blankets on the grass of the SCERA shell Thursday night, I really regretted not inviting my 4-year old cousin to Willly Wonka with me. To him, the night would have been pure magic.
No doubt about it: the target audience for this show is children. The audience members under–oh let’s say–ten were enthralled by the colors and the music that surrounded them throughout the night. I can only imagine how much they loved the silly grandparents, the animated teenagers, and the over-the-top characters that occupied the stage.
When Act 2 began and it was finally dark enough to see the lighting, it was that much more magical–even to those of us over ten. The SCERA shell’s challenge will always be staging that first act in broad daylight and trying to suspend our disbelief without the help of lighting. Wonka tackled this challenge by getting their cast off the stage and in the audience as much as possible. Willy Wonka himself (played by Phil Erickson) began the show seated in the center of the audience, and sang his first song while traveling through the people. Oompa Loompas and kids ran from the back and the sides of the house time and time again, and it never got old. In a space like the shell, I enjoyed that the action wasn’t constantly on the stage, and the kids were cute. Let’s face it: those kids could have gotten away with just about anything on that stage, but they didn’t rely on their cuteness. They worked hard and were totally committed to being Oompas. Plus they kept the show interesting by filling the dead space–the scene changes and transitions–with anything and everything. From dance numbers to hula hoops, pogo sticks, and impressive tumbling, those Oompas were a talented bunch. Because as many of us have discovered, transitions can make or break a show. Way to make the show, Oompas!
There were moments when it was hard to understand a couple of the leads’ accents, but their characters were nonetheless memorable. I absolutely loved Mike Teevee’s (Shea Potter) various plastic swords and Nerf guns hidden about his person, especially when he stood his ground against a clueless Oompa Loompa with a Nerf gun. Standouts in the cast were the Ensemble (specifically designated as such in the program), Mrs. Beauregarde (Rebekah Osmond), and Charlie Bucket (A.J. Nielsen). The Ensemble set the standard for energy, but alas no one could match it until the finale. Each time the ensemble (a large group of colorful, charismatic “teenage” characters) ran onto the stage–and I can’t recall a time they didn’t run–the energy was contagious! I especially loved them, along with Charlie, in “Candy Man.” Charlie sang well, and gained momentum as the show progressed. As Charlie discovered the wonder of the Wonka world, so did we. He definitely captured the spirit of honesty that Charlie represents.
I’m glad the production didn’t try to re-create any Wonka films. They made this production their own, complete with pop culture jokes and a mega-mix at the end. (Seriously.) I have to give the SCERA major credit for including so many kids in their production. With 51 Oompa Loompas and 12 Squirrels, the show had 63 kids running around backstage, and there wasn’t once when those kids missed a cue. (Shout out to the adorable, scene-stealing squirrels. Poor Veruca Salt had to compete with their cuteness during her big song.) Props to the set design for being as colorful as a candy store, and to the costume design for having direction and being consistent & unified. Because really, how else were the back-row spectators supposed to tell the difference between Mrs. Gloop and Mr. Salt?
It was absolutely clear that everyone on the stage was really committed to putting on a good show, and was loving every minute. Quite a few of the actors’ bios mentioned something about how their kids were in the cast with them. Wonka is a family show in every sense. So my recommendation? If you’re planning on attending, be sure to take your little sister/brother/cousin/niece/nephew/etc. With a child sitting beside you, I guarantee you will see the magic, too.