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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Vienna Theatre's 'Willy Wonka' wows the town




From left, Melissa Handel, Faith Skeen, and Mia Parnaby are Oompa-Loompas who follow the orders of Sedrick Moody as Willy Wonka, in Vienna Theatre Company's Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka The Musical which runs through May 4, 2014/ photo by Jessica Sperlongano

The family that plays together stays together, and laugh and enjoy they will at Vienna Theatre Company's Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka: The Musical now on stage at the Vienna Community Center.

It's the story of a poor boy, Charlie Bucket (excellently played by Adam LeKang) who lives with his impoverished family, so destitute that Charlie's four grandparents have to sleep together in one bed. (Why their bedroom remains on stage throughout the first act is perplexing.)

How would you like to sleep every night with your four grandparents in a single bed?  They do in Vienna Theatre Company's Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka The Musical which runs through May 4, 2014 at the Vienna Community Theatre. From left are Bob Maurer (Grandpa Joe), Toby Nelson (Mrs. Bucket), Nora Zanger (Grandma Josephine), Emily Franks (Grandma Georgina), Adam LeKang (Charlie Bucket), and Joseph LeBlanc (Grandpa George)/Photo by Jessica Sperlongano

Near their falling-down house is a chocolate factory which Charlie's Grandpa Joe (Bob Maurer is quite funny and believable) often describes in stories he tells his grandson.  (But it is Joseph leBlanc as Charlie's hard-of-hearing Grandpa George who has the best lines.)  The chocolate factory is owned by the mysterious and magical Willy Wonka (performed with sophistication by Sedrick Moody).

One day Willy Wonka announces a big contest with global ramifications since five winners will be chosen from around the world to compete and take a tour of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory with the grand prize to be...a lifetime supply of chocolate.

(How delish! If you could wish for anything, would it be a lifetime supply of chocolate? Me, too.)

The winners are to be determined by finding Golden Tickets inside candy bars.  Imagine!  What better reason to gorge your way out of house and home than by eating chocolate bars to find a ticket? (Has General Mills tried this with Cheerios?)

If Charlie did not find one of the Golden Tickets, this story would stop too soon. 

For the grand prize he has to compete with the other winners who are horrid children who treat their parents like children: a gum chewer (Violet, adoringly performed by Kaia Griggs), a spoiled brat (Amelia Lindsey is Veruca Salt), a boy named Augustus Gloop (Erik Peyton) and another one by the name of Mike Teavee (Tashi Poe).  Can you guess what their specialities are?

Then there is "plain ole" Charlie, and guess who wins. You have to see the play to find out, but I will tell you that Willy Wonka gives glorious tours of his factory and strange things happen to the "tourists."  Funny things. Well-deserved things. Like meeting Willy Wonka's workers, the Oompa Lompas who are dressed like giant M and Ms in various colors. 

Costume designers Judy Whelihan and Kati Andresen assisted by Francoise Davis created the smashing outfits with wiiiide waistlines for the Oompa Loompas. Their faces are heavily endowed with globs of makeup which must take hours to apply (by Erica Longshore), and their hair styles (by Jocelyn Steiner, also the show's producer) will throw you for oompa loompas.
 
In the show Willy Wonka frequently waves his magic hand with spread out fingers like the spokes on a bicycle, and the solo sounds of what sounded like the strings of a harp matched his movements, except there was no harpist among members of "Music Village" who provided welcome music:  Larry Zimmerman, Francine Krasowska and Beth Atkins on keyboards, Kristina Westernik, violinist, and Abel Ruiz, percussionist.

Choreography by Rossyln Fernandez for many different ages, some of whom may never have had a dance lesson, was striking and happily made a part of almost every scene.

Nobody stole the show (except for, maybe, Grandpa George's lines) but Mr. Moody's voice stood out with its breadth and strength followed by the singing of Daniel Marin as the Candy Man. 

Other members of the cast are Emily Franks, Nora Zanger, Alex Graur, Toby Nelson, Kimberly Baker, Melissa Handel, Hannah Hess, Mia Parnaby, Kyla Poe, Faith Skeen, Kathryn Skeen, and Wayne Jacques.

Jessie Roberts, the director, with assistance from Ms. Krasowska, Ms. Atkins, Mr. Zimmerman, Ms. Steiner, Scott Richards, and Colleen Stock, the stage manager, was able to pull off a musical...without a music director.  Applause!

Other key Wonka crew members are Tom Epps, lighting designer, Jon Roberts, sound, Janice Zucker, vocal coach, Leta Fitzhugh, sets, and Suzanne Maloney, properties.

Willy Wonka's got so much action and dance even the fidgetiest child (or adult) will not cry for chocolate at intermission (which happens to be available for purchase). On Saturday night the show was (or close to) a sell-out with children younger than 14 filling about half the seats.

There are few community events more enjoyable than a production with many local children starring in it, and Willy Wonka fits that playbill. 
 
For a listing and reviews of other area performances, click DC Metro Theater Arts.

What:  Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka: The Musical

When:  May 2 and 3 at 8 p.m., and  May 4 at 2 p.m.

Where: Vienna Theatre Company,120 Cherry Street, Vienna, VA 22180

Tickets: $14

For more information: 703-255-6360 or visit the website

Duration: About two hours with intermission
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