Matthews Playhouse musical takes to stage April 27 to 29
Golden tickets, Oompa Loompas and a magical chocolate factory will soon hit the stage as the Matthews Playhouse School of Theatre gears up for its first ever production of “Willy Wonka Jr.” April 27 to 29.
The Playhouse presented the stage play “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” 10 years ago, seeing more box office success than ever before, but the nonprofit children’s theater hasn’t done any other presentations of the story since.
This time around, the production will incorporate singing and dancing. Recently, the story was adapted as a musical incorporating a lot of the same songs featured in the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder. In addition, the show will feature actors ages 18 and younger. “There was really room for lots of groups of young people,” Director June Bayless said.
All 58 cast members are involved in musical theater and students of the Matthews Playhouse yearlong performance class, a requirement to be in the show. The students begin taking the class for an hour and a half, one day a week, in September. By spring, they’re rehearsing five or six days a week for the spring musical that concludes the class and brings all their hard work to fruition.
Matthews Playhouse is taking some creative freedom with the production, Bayless said. Wanting to involve as many actors as possible, Bayless has added cast members and groups to musical numbers where extra vocalists aren’t necessarily required.
She also has been hyping up the energy of the show, changing some of the pieces from ballads to upbeat compositions.
“We’ve really been piping it up,” Bayless said. “You don’t really want to do ballads in a kids’ show unless you want to put people to sleep.”
Bayless and her team also have come up with creative special effects for the scene where Charlie and Grandpa fly. The theater didn’t have the money to spend on the professional effects they used for “Peter Pan,” but they didn’t want to turn to using puppets like other theaters have done during the scene.
“We had to come up with another unique way to make Charlie and Grandpa fly,” Bayless said. She wouldn’t give away the stage magic secret.
For 13-year-old James Stryska, who plays Augustus Gloop, the biggest challenge was putting on a German accent.
“That has to be the toughest part,” he said. “I tried looking at videos (of people speaking with German accents), but they didn’t really help me. The script helped a lot, though, having me say my W’s as V’s and stuff like that.”
One of the things Bayless has loved about this show, compared to others she has directed previously, is the dedication and commitment the kids have shown during rehearsals. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a group of such committed young people, all willing to put both feet in,” she said. “I’m always surprised, especially with young people, but I push them to the last minute because if you don’t expect much, you don’t get much. I think their effort is going to really pay off and (the show is) going to be a big success.”
Want to go?
The Matthews Playhouse School of Theatre will present the musical “Willy Wonka Jr.” Friday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m;, Saturday, April 28 at 2 and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, April 29, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $9 for students and seniors.
For more information, or to buy tickets, call 704-846-8343 or visit www.matthewsplayhouse.com.