There's not much flavor in Venice Theatre's Willy Wonka.
By Kay Kipling
The opening number in the musical stage version of Willy Wonka is Pure Imagination, and you’ll have to use yours pretty liberally to summon up much magic in the classic Roald Dahl tale.
One understands that an onstage version of the piece, especially at a community theater, will not have the sometimes over-the-top spectacle of either film telling of the Wonka story and that trip to the chocolate factory. But the special effects in Venice Theatre’s production are especially underwhelming, whether it’s the curtain masquerading as a chocolate river or the almost invisible conversion of a disobedient child into a blueberry.
Cast members of Venice Theatre's Willy Wonka.
Overall, the show has a too quiet, rather listless feeling about it as well. That’s despite the fact that much of the cast is capable and hard-working.
Scott Vitale looks right enough for the part of Willy Wonka (channeling more the Johnny Depp interpretation than the Gene Wilder one in this case), clad in a variety of colorful pants, hats and shoes. Thomas Junker carries off the role of young Charlie Bucket, the only worthy Golden Ticket winner, with enthusiasm. And some other performers are fine as well, including Cara Herman, Nina Tufenkjan, Neil Kasanofsky and Steve Credeur as Charlie’s bedridden grandparents.
The other Golden Ticket winners, the greedy Augustus Gloop (Charlie Kollar), spoiled rotten Veruca Salt (Ally Tufenkjan), video-addicted Mike Teavee (Andrew Richardson) and gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Hayley Brielle Balliet) have clearly been led by director Brad Wages to ham it up as much as possible; sometimes that works and sometimes it’s just annoying. The Oompa-Loompas—often a high point of the Wonka saga—are cute here, but not especially interesting in the way they’re conceived visually. And the set changes frequently slow the pacing of the show just when it needs to flow along to keep us involved.
For true Wonka-holics, there may be enough of the original’s charm remaining to make a visit to the show worthwhile. But for most people, I’d recommend popping one of the film versions into the DVD player.
Willy Wonka continues at Venice Theatre through May 24; call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.