BWW Interview: Cast of WILLY WONKA JR. at Arkansas Repertory Theatre tells of experiences
For the candy lover in all of us, the Arkansas Repertory Theater, will present Willy Wonka Jr., their first all-kids cast on the main stage June 21-30. Willy Wonka Jr. is a musical adaptation of the story based on the classic tale by Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Willy Wonka is an eccentric candy maker, who invites five children through a contest to tour the factory and win a lifetime supply of candy. Of course, keeping children out of trouble in a candy-filled environment is near impossible. Tickets start at $15 and are available at TheRep.org, by phone at (501) 378-0405, or by visiting the Box Office at 601 Main Street in Little Rock.
I had the joy and privilege to spend a little time with Anna Kimmell, the Director of Education at The Rep, who is the production's director and choreographer, and cast members Will Porter (Willy Wonka), Collin Carlton (Charlie Bucket), and Tania Renee Kelley (Veruca Salt). The kids were quite charming as we talked about this and past productions.
Broadway World: Is this production considered a camp?
Anna Kimmell: No, it's kind of somewhere in between educational and product based. But no, we are not considering this a camp. We have a full summer camp that starts on Monday. It's the first time where we have done a show like this where it's fully kids on the main stage--honestly ever, but certainly first education production in a long time. For all intents and purposes, we are approaching this production like we would any of our equity shows. The schedule is really similar; the people involved are really similar; we have all of our professional designers building the sets and doing the lights and sounds and all the stuff, so infrastructure is similar. We just happen to have small people in the show.
Collin knew he wanted to do theatre when he saw his first play at The Rep. "I wanted to do theatre. I always was jealous of the people on stage that were kids. I was like 'I want to be up there.'" Collin then took five classes with the Education at the Rep program, which is offered by the Arkansas Repertory Theater for budding actors ranging from dance to audition techniques. Willy Wonka Jr. Is Collin's third show. "By far this is my favorite of the plays that I've done."
Anna: This production of Willy Wonka is really a combination of the book and the film. We have the songs we know from the movie, but we have some of the kind of situations and some differences from the movie that are actually original to the book.
Willy Wonka is played by 15 year old Will Porter, who has done several productions around central Arkansas.
BWW: How many plays have you done:
Will: probably around 28/29 shows, almost to 30.
BWW: How old were you when you started:
Will: I was 10, but I didn't start doing community theatre until I was 12.
BWW: How do you like being Willy Wonka?
Will: It's fun-It's a lot of fun. It very interesting, especially in this version, because you get to play Willy Wonka and we also combined it with Candy Man. So, I'm getting to play two different aspects and two different kind of characters. It's a lot of fun, but it's challenging. It's really pushed me to go beyond my limits of my weirdness, because I'm automatically weird, but then you gotta bump it by 10 for Willy Wonka.
BWW: What has been other favorite past characters?
Veruca Salt is played by Tania Kelley who has been on The Rep's stage previously during a production of Madame Butterfly with Opera In The Rock.
BWW: How do you feel about being at The Rep?
Tania: I love it, it's fun. It's more of teaching then just like getting it and doing it. Opera in the Rock had a lot of professional people and they all do everything, and I was trying to learn as I go, but like here, they are taking it one step at a time, teaching us and doing a Broadway show.
When asked if she identified with her character, everyone laughed when she gave a great big smile and answered "a teeny bit."
Tania: Veruca wants it how she wants it, she doesn't take no for an answer. If she wants something, she's gonna go get it, she's going to work for it.
Anna: Tania is much nicer than Veruca Salt.
Collin: way, way nicer!
Though Tania loves plays, he main ambition is singing.
BWW: What kind of music are you doing?
Tania: I'm doing R&B, Soul--that's like my main focus, but I sing everything.
BWW: Who is your producer?
Tania: Joker's Studio in Little Rock
Tania: I just want to be an international singer.
Currently Tania has a single out called Lost On Love. Keep a lookout for another one to drop in July.
BWW: What more can you tell us about Willy Wonka Jr.?
Anna: The show runs about 70 minutes, so it is a really good length for families. It's short and sweet (pun intended), with songs you recognize and songs that are new. We have a big cast (39) all across central Arkansas. 150 auditioned for the show.
BWW: How is the casting process for you?
Collin: It was really hard. It was at the annex (education center) I was so excited nervous-like both. I wasn't sure if I was excited or nervous and so I tried out and went home and my mom was like you sounded super good and I was like oh really and she was like yeah and then she had this big speech about 'oh you found your thing.' And then I got callbacks, and I was definitely nervous about those, like I was nervous-not excited nervous.
There were nine Charlies for callbacks.
Collin: At the end I was not happy with my overall performance in callbacks, so I went home sad and did not sleep well. And then a week, two weeks later, I got the part and my mom had this big cake.
When I asked Will and Tania if they got cake, that both sadly shook their heads with a no answer.
Anna: We ran our auditions like we would our equity or our union calls, so we were just trying to give them a professional experience from the beginning in terms of what we expected and how the auditions are run and how callbacks are run. We're trying to teach them industry standards at a young age. I think it helps them out when they go somewhere else, drop more singles, or whatever.
Education at the Rep has secret plans in the works, so watch their website at therep.org for future projects and shows.