Get ready for a colourful spectrum of fun. The newly constructed Paul Kane High School raises the curtain on its state-of-the-art theatre with Willy Wonka.
And it promises to be a golden ticket to adventure for both the audience sitting in the 227-seat theatre as well as the triple-threat actors singing their way through the musical production. Expect to see people-sized lollipops, a moving boat that seats nine, a chocolate river, bubbles floating through the air, and a confetti cannon.
“The last few years have been a real journey, with shows being cancelled or modified because of COVID, and now this year with moving buildings. We are excited to bring both students and the community something that is nostalgic and light-hearted, in honour of the trials we’ve all been through, as well as celebrating this new space,” said director Lisa Whitson.
Leslie Bricusee and Timothy A. McDonald originally adapted Willy Wonka from Roald Dahl’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The story follows Willy Wonka, an eccentric candymaker on a quest to find an heir to his chocolate empire, and Charlie Bucket, a young boy living in an impoverished family.
To locate his heir, Wonka hides golden tickets in five of his delicious candy bars. Whoever finds the tickets wins a free tour of the Wonka factory and a lifetime supply of candy. Charlie is one of the lucky five in addition to four other detestable children.
On the factory tour, Charlie meets Wonka and the rainbow costumed Oompa-Loopas who are in charge of daily operations. During the tour, the children must follow Wonka’s rules or face the consequences. Four children ignore Wonka’s rules. They are ejected from the factory leaving the kind-hearted Charlie as heir.
Dahl’s book was released in 1964. Gene Wilder first starred in the 1971 American musical fantasy film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory turning the story into a cinematic classic. However, society and social values have changed from the 20th century. Whitson was asked what continues to make the musical relevant.
“The version has been updated to the present day and includes such things as Mike Teavee using a cell phone and a Gameboy, not just TV. However, the overall story remains the same, and has a foundation around the Bucket family in their poor little shack eating cabbage soup. Their family values, such as always looking at things from a positive viewpoint, are still important in today’s environment.”
She adds those expressions of confidence are vocalized in several of the 23 numbers such as Think Positive and Cheer-up Charlie.
Grade 11 student Em Cresswell has nabbed the role of Wonka while Grade 10 student Hanna Adamson plays Charlie.
“They both bring previous theatre experience and a strong work ethic. I really appreciate their professionalism, focus and desire to do the job to the best of their ability.”
When asked about the gender flip, Witson replied, “Gender is a spectrum, so we try to cast it that way too. We are not changing the genders of any of the characters, only allowing anyone of any gender the opportunity to play them.”
Despite a gender difference, Creswell relishes playing the offbeat chocolatier.
“Whenever I play a character, I never focus on gender. I focus on character and how I am physically. I think about the walk, the talk, the vocal inflections. I like to play off-the-wall, zany characters. I’m used to playing different characters. I’ll even be playing Cat in the Hat in Seussical at the children’s festival.”
She views Wonka as a “different sort of character.”
“Sure, he’s funny, but underlying that is cynicism. He’s a bit more malicious underneath. He doesn’t really care for children. His goal is finding the perfect replacement for when he retires.”
The 32-member cast is performing on a proscenium-style stage installed with moveable curtains for wings. Backstage is connected to the gymnasium’s change-rooms which double as dressing rooms during a performance.
The audience sits on raked retractable seats looking down at the stage. Every seat offers a good view of the action. When not in use, the retractable seats can be pushed back to create a larger flex space.
There was a delay in installing all the technical equipment and this production is using a few rentals to fill the gaps. Once all technical equipment is installed, the venue will feature state-of-the-art sound, LED lighting, a haze machine, and an oversized projector and screen.
Willy Wonka runs May 23 to 26 starting at 6:30 p.m. Paul Kane High is at 12 Cuningham Road. Call 780-459-4405 for tickets.