Adults and children alike will need a healthy dose of “Pure Imagination” for Vienna Theatre Company’s production of “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, The Musical,” opening April 18.
The company hopes its take on the classic children’s story will stand out from other iterations of the tale, including the beloved 1971 film starring Gene Wilder. In director Jessie Roberts’ words, “this isn’t your mother’s Willy Wonka.”
“We’ve taken slightly different approaches to some aspects of it that hopefully people can shake off the old image from the movies and get behind our production,” she said.
The 2004 musical combines elements of Dahl’s original novel with the cinematic world of Wonka, mixing well-known songs with new pieces written by Leslie Bricusse, who worked on the original film score.
While the well-known Oompa Loompas may look a little different, their warnings to the children regarding their bad behavior as well as to their parents for allowing it, remain the same. However, Roberts does hope to elevate the production from the dark depths the story has reached in both films as well as the source material.
“What I’ve tried to do is play up the joy and positive aspects,” she said. “Roald Dahl is a pretty dark writer, so I can’t ignore that, but on the other hand, I want to make it accessible to families and not have kids screaming out of the auditorium.”
In stark contrast to the magical, elaborate scenery present in the movies, VTC has considerably less space available for sets. Audience imagination will play a huge part in making the chocolate factory come to life.
Roberts took inspiration from how the cast and crew of a production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” in New York took minimal technology and created scenery and objects from it.
“You’re going to see people doing things on stage to make the magic work,” Roberts said. “And I hope that the audience goes along with that — that it’s magical and part of theater and that’s part of the fun.”
“It’s nice to work with someone whose heart is really in it,” added Daniel Marin, who plays the Candy Man and has worked previously with Roberts. “It’s a fairly elaborate production, probably one of the more elaborate productions I’ve been in. It’s a lot of moving pieces and it’s a pretty big bite to take off, so I think she’s doing a great job of it and looking forward to opening day.”
The plot follows Charlie Bucket, one of five lucky children who get to visit Wonka’s chocolate factory with a chaperone for a tour and a chance to become the candy-maker’s successor. Throughout the visit, the children drop out one by one due to their disregard of Wonka’s warnings. Even Charlie breaks the rules, but his honesty redeems him.
Overall, the whimsical tale of Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory serves as a lesson that everyone, even adults, can misbehave sometimes.
“Willy Wonka is a fun character,” said Sedrick Moody, who plays the role of the mysterious chocolatier. “He gives permission to bring out the good and bad in anybody. Everybody will probably find some vice to identify with in each of the characters and an important message they can learn from.”
“I hope maybe some kids will recognize parts of themselves in the characters that give in to the temptations Wonka puts in front of them and realize maybe it’s not the best behavior to engage in, and maybe even some of the parents will rethink some of their actions,” added Roberts. “For people who don’t have kids and aren’t children, I just want them to appreciate the magic and take a lot of joy home.”