Willy Wonka raises Muskoka musicals to newer heights with uplifting performances
Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAILY.com
HUNTSVILLE — Willy Wonka has sweetened the pot of Muskoka musicals, raising them to new heights with uplifting performance and technical treats that get a rise out of the audiences.
Always strong on acting, singing, dancing, music and storytelling, the latest choco-lotto tale has added a solid new dimension to the semi-professional stage company’s growing stature.
The highs and snows of the show — “Willy Wonka and Chocolate Factory” — going into its second and final three-day run here at the Algonquin Theatre Friday, Saturday and Sunday (matinee) are its “scrumdiddlyumptious” technical treats.
From the fizzy-lifting of protagonist “Chuck” Bucket and Grandpa Joe (channelling Peter Pan in the ‘Flying and Burping Song,’ to the beautifully, believable cold white stuff on the ‘Snowy Streets,’ to the black lite of the ‘Pink Candy Boat,’ the tech team of Cheryl Stamper, Martin Smith, Janet Copland and Steve Richards among many behind the scenes tasted victory.
It’s their attention to detail that stands out in the set designs most barely see, however the overall presence is felt if not seen from the back.
But, of course, it’s the actors who take front of stage, with leads Alexia Evans (Charlie Bucket) and Mike Pearse (Willy Wonka) and their very pleasing voices telling the story of the chocolate factory, the candy bar lottery, and the funky, fun tour.
Unfortunately, bite by bite the main supporting actors are eliminated by their greed and the temptation of too much chocolate.
Millie Cassie Batchelor is a scream as Veruca, the winy, narcissistic daughter of her sugar daddy “Mr. Salt” – or as he pipes up: “There’s always a nut in chocolate.”
Jennifer Simpson and “Mrs. Gloop” and her son “Augustus Gloop” who suffers from Prader-Willi syndrome of not being able to stop eating – especially chocolate, which ultimately claims both son and mom are funny and got the first big laugh.
Equally so are the other two co-lottery winners, the gum-chewing, blowout Grace Murphy as “Violet Beauregarde;” Shawn Marks as “Mike Teavee” the cool, if confusing character with the cell phone in an old English play.
They and the “Oompaloompas” (who do a smart job changing sets) add some colour and comedy to a play which, while it has a lot going for it, could have used a few more laughs and zaniness from Willy Wonka.
Still, most of the players in Willy Wonka are now veterans of previous Muskoka Rotary musicals, either like this one in Huntsville or with the Bracebridge Rotary.
And it shows, with lots of experience at various levels, from acting to singing and direction that pays off in all parts. Frank Berg as reporter “Phineous Trout” and the Greg Peras as the “Candy Man” with the lone memorable tune also deserve special mention, along with David Walton as “Grandpa Joe.”
Chuck’s bed-sitting family particularly works as a too rare standout.
No wonder it’s playing to large houses over its six-day run.
With the smoothest music conductor Neil Barlow’s pit band has produced, the whole picture comes into focus as quite a good production, worthy of an off-Toronto recognition.
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