WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY Plays Berkeley Playhouse, Now thru 8/19

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Berkeley Playhouse closes its 2011-12 main stage season with a delicious adaptation of Roald Dahl's WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Berkeley Playhouse founding Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy helms this musical treat, based on Roald Dahl's stylish children's story about the world famous candy man, starring noted Bay Area singer/songwriter, musician, and recording artist Vernon Bush in the title role. Roald Dahl'S WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY plays tonight, July 14 through August 19 at the Julia Morgan Theatre in Berkeley.

Willy Wonka, owner of a magical and mysterious chocolate factory, excels at making candy. He is ready to retire, however, and sets out on a quest to find a "bright spark," an honest and worthy heir to continue his candy confectioning. Filled with sweet surprises, including aerial acrobatics, bungee jumping, and a professional Oompa Loompa dance ensemble, WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY features such memorable tunes from the classic family film as "The Candy Man," "Pure Imagination," "Oompa Loompa," and "I Want it Now" by Academy and Grammy Award winners Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley; the musical also features a new script adapted under the auspices of the Dahl Estate.

"We are taking WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY back to its cinematic and musical roots, the 1970s," said director and Berkeley Playhouse Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy. "Our production is a funkadelic interpretation of the classic Roald Dahl story about rediscovering love, faith, and hope in the future. Wonka yearns to rediscover innocence in a world that he believes has gone haywire. The world that we are living in today can certainly feel like it has gone haywire as well. The music in WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is fun and energetic and we hope that this production not only portrays all that makes Roald Dahl's stories special, but also reinterprets it in a way that provides a bit of escapism, a journey of pure imagination, for the musicians, actors, and audiences alike."

Vernon Bush makes his Berkeley Playhouse debut as Willy Wonka in WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Bush is a singer/songwriter, musician and recording artist. He worked closely with the late Whitney Houston as well as jazz legend Nancy Wilson. Additionally, he has opened for artists including Gladys Knight, Stanley Jordan, Mickey Hart, and Michael Franti & Spearhead, and has toured all over the world. He is a member of the a cappella group Sovoso and is also a featured vocalist with the Glide Ensemble Choir at the world-renowned Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco.

WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY features a phenomenal cast of professional adult actors, as well as an alternating cast of youth actors trained in the Berkeley Playhouse Conservatory professional internship programs, including: Dakota Dry (Annie, Oliver) and Lucy Urbano (My Son Pinocchio, The Jungle Book) as Charlie; Paul Loper (Annie) as Grandpa Joe; Ben Rotenberg (Lucky Duck, My Son Pinocchio) and Aasha Dev (Honk Jr., My Son Pinocchio) as Mike Teavee; Leo Jergovic (Cinderella, Enchanted, Narnia) and Robin Rojas-Cheatham (Lucky Duck, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown) as Augustus Gloop; Emma Choate (Seussical, the Musical, Peter Pan, Cinderella) and Juliet "Jet" Harper (Grease) as Veruca Salt; Hannah Dworkin as Mrs. Bucket; Bonnie Lafer as Mrs. Beauregarde; Alexis Lane Jensen as Mrs. Gloop; Miyaka Cochran as Mr. Bucket; Chad Dickerson as Mr. Salt; and Amanda King as Mrs. Teavee. Rounding out the cast are Emily Abel, Deirde Ashby, Cera Byer, Sachi Granich, Michelle Huebel, Brie Martin, Matt Ono, Linnea Snyderman, Jesper Tran, and Lauren Vance.

Elizabeth McKoy directs WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. A passionate theater teaching artist and Education Director for over 25 years, McKoy foundEd Berkeley Playhouse in 2007. For the company, she has directed numerous productions, including Peter Pan, Cinderella, Enchanted, Into The Woods, The Music Man, and Bravado, among others. Additionally, McKoy spearheaded a new musical works program for Berkeley Playhouse, commissioning new musicals including the fully-staged workshop of Born and Raised and Bravado. In addition to directing, McKoy guides and trains teaching artists and writes curriculum for Berkeley Playhouse Conservatory, which now serves over 500 kids each year. She continues to oversee the vision for the Berkeley Playhouse main stage and youth companies, outreach, and education programs.

Dane Paul Andres choreographs WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Berkeley Playhouse productions include Once On This Island, The Wizard Of Oz, Seussical, the Musical, and The Jungle Book. Additional credits include productions at Diablo Theater Company, Center Repertory Company, American Musical Theatre of San Jose, Woodminster Summer Musicals, and Willows Theatre Company. Additionally, Andres is a teaching artist in the Berkeley Playhouse Conservatory.

Tal Ariel provides musical direction for WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. A pianist, producer, composer, arranger and teacher, Ariel performs with various artists, and has composed several film scores. Credits for Berkeley Playhouse include Seussical, the Musical.

Anthony Newley (Music and lyrics) was an English actor, singer and songwriter. His first major film role was as the Artful Dodger in David Lean's 1948 film version of Oliver Twist. Newley had a successful pop music career, winning the 1963 Grammy Award for Song of the Year for "What Kind of Fool Am I;" he was also well-known for "Gonna Build a Mountain" and comic novelty songs. He wrote numerous songs that others made hits, including "Goldfinger," the title song of the James Bond film Goldfinger, and "Feeling Good," which became a hit for Nina Simone. With Leslie Bricusse, Newley wrote the musicals Stop the World, I Want to Get Off (1961) in which he also performed, earning a nomination for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical; The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd (1965); and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971). In recognition of his creative skills and body of work, Newley was elected to the Songwriters Hall of Fame; he died in 1999.

Leslie Bricusse (Lyrics,) is a writer-composer-lyricist who has contributed to over 40 musical films and plays during his career, including the stage musicals Stop the World, I Want to Get Off; The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd; Pickwick; The Good Old Bad Old Days; Henry's Wives; Scrooge; One Shining Moment; Jekyll and Hyde; and Victor/Victoria. He has enjoyed fruitful collaborations with an array of musical talents, including Anthony Newley, Henry Mancini, John Williams, John Barry, Jerry Goldsmith, Jule Styne, Quincy Jones, and Andre Previn. Bricuse has penned songs and/or screenplays for such films as WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, "Doctor Dolittle," "Goodbye, Mr. Chips," "Scrooge," and "Superman." Bricuse has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards, nine Grammy and four Tony Awards.

A respected educator, playwright (WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley, Jim Henson's Emmet Otter) and director, Tim MacDonald founded iTheatrics to create innovative programs that allow students to experience the transformative power of the arts. Before founding iTheatrics, MacDonald created Music Theatre International's Education Division, working side-by-side with theatrical greats including Cameron Mackintosh, Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Laurents, Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Schwartz, and Sheldon Harnick to create age-appropriate versions of classic musicals. In partnership with Work Light Productions, MacDonald directed and developed four touring productions: Broadway Junior on Tour, Disney's Discover Theater, Frankly Ben, and The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley. In partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center, he co-wrote the book for WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY; he is currently developing Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach into a new musical.

Roald Dahl was a British novelist, short story writer, poet, and screenwriter. Dahl rose to prominence in the 1940s with works for both children and adults and became one of the world's best-selling authors. His short stories are known for their unexpected endings, and his children's books for their unsentimental, often very dark humor. His first children's book was The Gremlins (1943), about mischievous little creatures that were part of Royal Air Force folklore. Dahl went on to create some of the best-loved children's stories of the 20th century, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, The BFG, George's Marvelous Medicine, and Fantastic Mr Fox. Regarded as one of the greatest storytellers for children of the 20th century, Dahl ranks among the world's best-selling fiction authors; his books have been published in almost 50 languages. Dahl died in 1990.

Berkeley Playhouse was founded in 2007 by Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy, a professional theater actor, director, and teacher for over 25 years. Under the artistic guidance of McKoy, and Managing Director Lauren Hewitt, Berkeley Playhouse is a professional theater for all ages that presents a season of year-round musicals, providing children and families with unique and sophisticated musical theater experiences. In addition, Berkeley Playhouse has a music theater conservatory which offers a range of educational instruction classes in music performance skills. In 2009, Berkeley Playhouse made its permanent performance home at the historic Julia Morgan Theatre in Berkeley.

Following Roald Dahl's WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, Berkeley Playhouse presents summer youth conservatory productions of THE LITTLE MERMAID (July/August), and INTO THE WOODS (August). The company's new season of family-friendly musicals opens in October with Rodgers and Hammerstein's THE SOUND OF MUSIC, directed by Jennifer King. Jon Tracy returns to the company to direct Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows' GUYS AND DOLLS in March, followed by the West Coast Professional Premiere of DISNEY'S MULAN JR., directed by Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy in July.

For tickets ($17-35) and more information, the public may visit berkeleyplayhouse.org or call 510-845-8542x351.

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