Review: WILLY WONKA at Vintage Theatre

By: Oct. 02, 2016
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The magical world of Willy Wonka's candy empire is a story that most are familiar with. From the rooms with flavored wallpaper, to the oompa-loompa minion workers, to the rich chocolate waterfall and river, the world of Willy Wonka's candy factory is whimsical and epic. But how does that world, which had so much help from cinematic geniuses and high-budget settings, get transferred to the living stage?

From the beginning of the experience at Vintage's production of Willy Wonka, the audience is ported into the sugar-coated mindset that this show is going to be pure candy fluff. From the signature candy cocktails served in the lobby to the candy cart filled with Wonka Chocolate bars in front of the red curtain pre-show, you get the feeling that this is going to be a saccharine dream.

The story follows the poorest child in town, Charlie Bucket (In this production, it's short for Charlene Bucket, played masterfully by Ashlynne Bogema), and her longing for salvation from her destitute family position. When longtime recluse Willy Wonka, of certain candy fame, comes out of retirement and hiding, he announces that he will be holding a contest wherein 5 golden admission tickets to a private tour of his mysterious candy factory are randomly disbursed across the world in his delicious chocolate bars. As the first four tickets are found by spoiled children worldwide, Charlie grows more disappointed and desperate for a taste of such glory, until one day, the local candy man sells Charlie a special bar of chocolate with a wink of encouragement. Charlie opens the bar to reveal the coveted 5th golden ticket, and is ecstatic. She decides to use her plus-one invitation spot to the tour on her beloved Grandpa Joe (excellently executed by Brian Walker Smith). When the two join the other ticket winners at the gates of the factory, Willy Wonka (made absolutely loveable by Eddie Schumacher) promises the children and parents a view of the unimaginable. What antics and wonders await them at the gates is surely enough to drive a child mad with anticipation and awe.

When the curtain opens, however, the audience is not treated to the epic set and whimsy that they were promised. The sets are functional at best, and the decrepit world of Charlie Bucket's beyond-poor homestead is more detailed and interesting than the supposedly grandiose world of the candy factory. It seems that set designer Gov Landrom might not have had a clear picture of how to transition from location to location in a more grand fashion. The set was helped greatly, however, by projections created by Rob Rehburg, which suggested the many different locations in the show.

The lighting in the show left many performers half-lit at best, and in complete darkness at worst. Another missed opportunity for such a colorful show in premise. Costumes were clever and appropriate, with a specially fun quick-change costume for Violet, who gets turned into a giant blue ball within seconds.

Aside from the technical downfalls of the show, there were several points of interest to save the performance. Ashlynne Bogema's portrayal of Charlie was delightful, and her voice outshone many of the other performers in the show. The whimsy of Willy Wonka was made real by Eddie Schumacher, who carried the true whimsy of the Wonka style and manner. As Mr. and Mrs. Bucket, Brian Rollins and Holly Dalton were warm and loving characters surrounding Charlie with optimism. Brian Walker Smith as Grandpa Joe was bright and energetic. The show was backed by a 7-piece orchestra directed by the very talented Trent Hines, who clearly worked very hard with the show's ensemble.

Director Deb Flomberg had her work cut out for her with the production, managing an ensemble with adults and several children. She pulled great performances out of many of the actors, but some were left almost apologizing for their appearance in certain scenes. The whole production might have needed a more unified vision between all the elements of production (the set, the lighting, the direction, the music) to make a more cohesive and elaborate world come alive.

The show was entertaining, and while the world promised was not as spectacular as what was delivered, the show still touched the audience. Perhaps the biggest faults of the show can be attributed to a weak script, a forgettable score (save a few memorable songs from the original film), and set demands that were far beyond the limitations of the designers. In all, perhaps Vintage bit off more of the chocolate bar than they could chew.

Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka plays the Vintage Theatre September 16-October 30. 1468 Dayton St. Aurora, CO 80010. For tickets and information visit www.vintagetheatre.org or call 303-856-7830.



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