WIlly Wonka is back in time for the holidays, at the Manatee Players.
By Kay Kipling
Everyone likes a little something sweet over the holidays, and Willy Wonka, now onstage at the Manatee Players, is just that—like sampling a bonbon or two after a satisfying meal, especially if you go with a young person.
Most people probably know the Wonka tale from one of the two movie versions (the first with Gene Wilder, the later one with Johnny Depp), although hopefully some have also read the Roald Dahl original. The version here is based on the earlier movie, with music by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, but has been newly updated and adapted for the stage with a song or two reflecting some changes over the last decade or so—like for example in the bad habits of one of the children in the story, Mike Teavee, who not only spends too much time in front of the television but is also way too attached to his cell phone and violent video games.
Of course Mike is only one of the “bad” children whose goose is going to get cooked by Mr. Wonka on that tour of his celebrated chocolate factory. Other winners of the “Golden Ticket” that gets them inside that magical place include Veruca Salt, the spoiled daughter of a money-waving father; Violet Beauregarde, an annoying gum-chewer; and Augustus Gloop, a glutton. The fifth child, as all Wonka-ites know, is sweet, lovable Charlie Bucket (Brandon Reid), whose family is poor but whose spirit is rich in positivity.
So, this Wonka telling replays some of the hit songs you might recall (Pure Imagination, The Candy Man) while adding a few others. And it moves along quite swiftly in its story (the whole show is over in less than two hours), with an ingratiating performance by Reid and a nicely balanced one by Heath Jorgenson in the dual role of the kindly Candy Man and the eccentric Willy Wonka. The other child actors are pretty strong, too, and I especially like the Oompa-Loompa numbers, which these curious characters perform as a warning after each child is dispatched the Wonka way.
On the less successful side, the special effects are somewhat underwhelming for those used to the movie versions (although they may still please the kids), and there are a few awkward moments and line stumbles. One annoying aspect to the production: the TV monitors, which show us the winning kids being interviewed by a reporter, but also flicker frequently when nothing is on them, distracting from the “real” action.
Still, the enduring Dahl story and overall message make Willy Wonka a nice holiday treat for those with grandchildren in town. It continues onstage through Dec. 21; call 748-5875 or go to manateeplayers.com.