Currently, DPAC is putting on a huge and fantastical production that tells the story of Willy Wonka and his magical chocolate factory. However, (quite) a few miles down the road, a high school is offering a similar production, and it’s just as magical. West Johnston High School’s production of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka is a whole lot of fun, as well as being incredibly inspiring. The young people in this production, backed by Cheri Crabtree, the school’s Fine Arts Department Chair, and Josh Johnson, the school's vocal director who was also responsible for a lot of the blocking, have really outdone themselves in bringing this fun story to life.
Backed by an energetic and strong-voiced Willy Wonka (Tyler Henry), the strange choclatier whose chaotic quest it is to bequeath his factory to a worthy heir, this production is not afraid to take risks and try new things, especially in terms of both set and staging.
The set pieces, all designed by the school's art teacher, Ashley Colston, start out as simple as a large, drab box bed, one that effectively establishes the poverty of those who utilize it: Charlie Bucket’s (Britta Crist) four “elderly” grandparents. This quadruplet ensemble milks every moment for humor, regularly chanting in unison and moaning about their various aches and pains.
Once Charlie, his Grandpa Joe (Jonah Collingwood), and the rest of the crazy cast of characters embark on Willy Wonka’s factory, however, the set pieces go from simple to fantastic. Detailed, painted backdrops, which often float onstage effortlessly and almost magically, are utilized throughout. The backdrop for the “In This Room Here” number is especially nice, as is the amazing factory backdrop set, which is complete with painted gumballs and all the tubes and inner workings of a real factory. There’s even an awesome candy boat used to traverse the show’s chocolate river. And as if all that wasn’t enough, the production utilizes fun, immersive effects, like snow that falls (and really dissolves) when it’s cold out and floating bubbles when Charlie and Grandpa Joe sample Wonka’s “fizzy lifting drink.”
All of these super-neat effects are backed by surprisingly strong performances from the young cast. Immediately, Megan Jones’ “Mrs Gloop,” the mother of greedy, gluttonous Augustus (Wyatt Nall), proves impressive with her incredible voice and her absolute mastery of her character’s German accent.
Likewise, Hannah Stevens’ spoiled Veruca Salt nails her part with carefully-directed posing and posturing, as well as a movie-perfect costume choice. Also nicely costumed is the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Brooke Dotson). It’s not just the costume that works here either. Altman proves absolutely adorable with her fast-talking, funny interpretation of the smacking Violet.
These strong performances are backed by some surprisingly high quality production effects. The orchestra, directed by band director Lucas Meade, complements every move perfectly, while the director is not afraid to use every inch of stage space in the high school's auditorium. The side of the stage and even the catwalk above prove fair game for scenes, making the production feel larger than life. The lighting is also on-point here, especially the green touches that accompany the Oompa-Loompas, who, by the way, are one of the best parts of this delightful production.
Looking like they just stepped off the original film set, the Oompa-Loompas are incredibly choreographed and offer an eerie mastery of all of their creep-tastic songs. At one point, they even glow in the dark!
All of these effects, combined with the other powerful elements of this production, join forces to make for a truly amazing performance that Roald Dahl, who loved children and believed in their great potential, would be proud of.
We love the arts. We write about them. Founded 2018.