BWW Review: ROALD DAHL'S WILLY WONKA JR. at Moorestown Theater Company
When Moorestown Theater Company puts on a production of Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka Jr. with an all-child cast ranging in age from 6 to 17, audiences know it is bound to be a charmer with the many imaginative touches the award-winning company is known for. Even on a shoestring budget, deft professionalism is always in evidence and Producing Artistic Director Mark Morgan and Director Erica Sirdashney work wonders with a large ensemble of local children - sixty in total. The beloved musical is an adaptation of Roald Dahl's 1964 children's book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which tells the story of impoverished 11-year-old Charlie Bucket who is one of five children to win a Golden Ticket to tour the famed magical candy factory of eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka - and win a lifetime supply of chocolate. The other four children are rounded out by Augustus Gloop, a gluttonous boy; Veruca Salt, a spoiled British girl; Violet Beauregarde, who is continuously chewing gum; and Mike Teavee, a boy who is addicted to television and in this updated version, Gameboy. The story was inspired by Dahl's schoolboy experiences with chocolate companies who often sent children test packages of new products, although it also recalls "The Magic Shop," a 1903 short story by H.G. Wells in which only "the right sort of boy" gets to enter a beguiling magic shop. The bulk of the ensemble have the opportunity to portray townspeople in the first act and Oompa-Loompas, Wonka's factory workers who hail from Loompaland, in the second of two acts.
Willy Wonka Jr. was the Moorestown Theater Company's 38th Summer Stage show and as part of the tradition for the final performance of a Summer Stage Musical, alumni joined the cast onstage prior to the performance to sing their theme "Warts & All" from their first Summer Stage Musical Honk! Jr. Two casts, a Black and a Gold (Moorestown's colors), alternate for the run of each show and in this final show, the Gold cast was on. In the first act, a small village was recreated with a whimsical black and white backdrop. Two screens hung at each corner of the stage project images that enhance the action or visual onstage and announce scenes. The entire cast wore muted colors of black, white and gray with very few splashes of color, capturing the dreariness and drab of this poor community. Willy Wonka (17-year-old Brianna Tavormina) serves fittingly as a narrator and Master of Ceremonies and has the charisma, stature and right blend of mischief, macabre and acting chops to fill Wonka's shoes and top hat splendidly. 13-year-old Colin Berkey makes a touching and appealing Charlie Bucket and puts his numbers across beautifully with a great instinct for phrasing.
The remaining four children holding Golden Tickets are delicious roles. Maria Torchia is spoiled perfection as Veruca, my personal favorite among the brats. With a big white bow on her head, she resembles Lil' Iodine of the comic strips. Cassidy Barasch is an insolent Violet and watching her turn into a blueberry is a highlight. Javon Crawford is delightfully vivid and absorbed in his devices as Mike Teavee while Kieran Barasch gets laughs as German Augustus Gloop, wolfing down entire cakes. It's a bit of an anachronism to see Teavee doing Gameboy as Bucket's family crowds around the radio to listen to Orphan Annie. Among the rest of the cast, Jonathan Sanie is a standout as Grandpa Joe, one of Charlie's four grandparents, and Angela Cucinotta makes a wonderful Phineous Trout, the reporter who covers the media sensation as each child finds a Golden Ticket across the world.
The second act undergoes a transformation into a world of brilliant color when the children enter the candy factory like Dorothy Gale going from the gray of Kansas into Oz in 1939's The Wizard of Oz. (Incidentally, the prior week the company had done their production of The Wizard of Oz with an adorable white dog named Koda Krebs practically stealing the show as Toto - colorblind casting since Toto is usually played by a black dog!) The Oompa-Loompas wear bright wigs of green, yellow, blue and red and do tap and acrobatics as each of the children on the factory tour meet some just punishment for their obnoxious behaviors. Their fates are ridiculous (like turning into a blueberry) and harmless. Ultimately, the humble Charlie Bucket wins Willy Wonka's favor and he and his family get to live in the factory in a happy ending. Willy Wonka meant the tour as a test of character all along.
The Moorestown Theater Company crafts terrific family shows for large casts with great skill and creativity. Between the seven-week period of July 12 and August 25, the company will have had 24 Summer Stage performances (four musicals, six performances each), while simultaneously putting on ten Main Stage performances over two weekends, a whopping total of 34 performances over the seven weeks. They pull it all off with "Pure Imagination" (one of the songs in Willy Wonka Jr.). Willy Wonka Jr. is one of the shows being taken to the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, Georgia in January 2018. The company has won seven cast/individual awards since it first participated in 2013 and every one of them is well-deserved.
For more information, visit: http://moorestowntheatercompany.org/.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Moorestown Theater Company