Watching a cast of more than 50 spring-loaded teens singing and dancing across the stage at the Performing Arts Center makes you want to sit back, strap on a seat belt, and hang on. The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School two-act musical production of “Willy Wonka,” opening tonight, Thursday, Feb. 17, is a sweet, high-energy rush.
The play, based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 book, “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory,” and directed by the indefatigable Kate Poole Murray, opens with Rykerr Maynard as Willy Wonka, in full command at center stage. Singing with graceful assurance, he declares, “The chocolate world could not survive without me,” and instructs all to summon their imaginations.
As do many in the cast, Mr. Maynard, a senior, has a long list of theater credits including Minnesingers, and although he admits his class and extra-curricular schedule is hectic — “I’m constantly going” — he enjoys all of it. “No matter what role I got,” he says, “I would be just as enthusiastic.”
But he is Willy Wonka, owner and maestro of a wondrous, magical chocolate factory (he sings a long list of his confections).
Wonka admits he’s ready to turn it all over to a worthy successor, and comes up with a plan: Hide five Golden Tickets in candy bars worldwide, and invite the lucky recipients to tour the factory and receive a lifetime supply of chocolate.
As the contest progresses, we meet the poor but hopeful Bucket family: Son Charlie (Grant Meacham), Grandpa Joe (Taylor McNeely), Grandma Josephine (Kristen Parece), and the deaf Grandpa George (Tony Breth) — who when someone says, “…bar of candy,” answers, “I’d love a jar of brandy.” They are all cuddled together in bed, while Mrs. Bucket (Emily Lowe) and Mr. Bucket (Bryan MacKenty), who don’t have a nickel for a candy bar, sit at a table serving up leftover cabbage soup and encouraging everyone to “Think Positive.”
The first four Golden Ticket winners are a bratty and spoiled bunch: the gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Gage Rancich), accompanied by his adoring mother (Ashley Willoughby); the constantly gum-chomping Violet Beauregarde (Sarah Swift) and her ever accommodating mother (Ashleen Cafarelli); the greedy Veruca Salt (Justine Tucker), with her over-indulgent, write-a-check father (Taylor Rassmussen); and the television-obsessed Mike Teavee (Thorpe Karabees) and his protective mother (Haley Hewson).
All the actors make the over-the-top group very entertaining, everyone playing their parts to the hilarious hilt.
The winners are finally joined by Grandpa Joe and Charlie, engaging and masterfully played by the polished and talented senior, Mr. Meacham. During a break, Mr. Meacham, a Minnesinger, says, “I love being Charlie. It gives me a chance to get in touch with my Charlie-side…I love every minute of it.”
And it shows.
Grandpa Joe is made completely charming by the always in-character Mr. McNeely. Mr. McNeely, a sophomore who has been involved in theater since he was eight and has real aptitude for character parts, says doing a light-hearted family-style show is as difficult as being in a drama because, “Kids need to believe your character, so it needs to be solid.”
As the Golden Ticket holders are taken through the fanciful, wondrous rooms of the chocolate factory, they meet the singing and dancing Oompa-Loompas, and face temptations that test their worthiness.
Of equal importance to the script is the show’s score, composed by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, lyrics by Anthony Newley. Musical directors Jan Wightman (on keyboard) and Michael Tinus (drums) have seen to it the string and percussion ensemble is note and rhythm perfect. Sounding professional, they keep everything moving quickly along.
With everyone in constant, but coordinated motion, choreographer Lianna Loughman, a veteran of the high school productions, has somehow managed again to creatively organize a large cast as they sing and dance in the aisles as well as on the stage.
And while credit is being noted, mention must be made of the technical and production crews. Here’s to production manager Betsy Hauck, and technical director Charlie Esposito, stage manager Evan Eagan, and set designers Mike Patnaude and Mr. Eagan. The play’s many scenes change quickly, and represent complicated plot lines and environments, all of which are demonstrated with ingenuity and skill.
It is an ambitious production with a clear and rather simple message that it moves toward quickly and happily.
“Willy Wonka,” Thursday, Friday, Feb. 17–18, 7 pm; Saturday, Feb. 19, 1 and 7 pm, Performing Arts Center, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Oak Bluffs. $10; $7 seniors and students.