The LaBelle Middle School drama department, under the direction of Olivia Billings presented their latest production this past weekend, May 12 and 13 at 7:00 p.m. in the LaBelle Middle School auditorium.
This year the troupe of thespians mounted Roald Dahl’s “Willy Wonka Jr.”.
After a very busy year, filled with hard work by these young actors, their parents, their Director, Assistant Directors, and countless volunteers who helped with fundraising, traveling to regional competitions, and fervent training, the culmination of all efforts was shown to a very excited audience of parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends, and fans.
The first act opened with Jenna McClain, who played Willy Wonka, acting as an emcee of sorts as she introduced the cast of characters to the onlookers. Jenna did a great job of kicking off the show with a strong vocal performance and an air of mystery, almost as if delivering a disclaimer to the audience that they should prepare themselves for the topsy-turvy train ride of strangeness that is “Willy Wonka”.
We were first given a glimpse into the lives of Charlie Bucket, played by Loralei Weber, and his destitute family consisting of his parents (Mr. and Mrs. Bucket, played by Jaden Sherrod and Kenna Pack) and both sets of grandparents, who all cohabitate in a small shack. Mrs. Bucket spends all of her time in the kitchen preparing leftover cabbage soup. Mr. Bucket primarily resides in his armchair as the Lord of the Manor, while the elderly and frail grandparents (Grandpa Joe – Tyler Nisbet, Grandma Josephina – Tanaja Thompkins, Grandpa George – Benjamin Suggs, and Grandma Georgina – Laelyn Bottoms) share one, not so big, bed. What this family lacks in luxury, they make up for with a communal spirit of optimism and humble gratitude.
Inside this dismal setting we learn that Willy Wonka, the creator of the world’s most delicious chocolates and candies, is issuing a certain number of ‘golden tickets’ packaged inside their chocolate candy bars. The lucky recipients of these tickets will be granted an audience with the famous chocolatier and an in depth tour of the chocolate factory. The news of the chance of winning this opportunity brings excitement and hope to the entire Bucket family, not the least Charlie and especially Grandpa Joe, who at one time was an employee of the Wonka Enterprise. The young cast portraying the Bucket clan all did a superb job of character acting, creating personas that hinted that they may have studied their own parents and grandparents in preparation for their roles.
With a flurry of dimly lit choreography the creatively constructed set morphed quickly from the drab little shack into the exterior, still dreary, cold streets with hues of grays and browns until suddenly, for the first time, we get a foreshadowing of the technicolor whimsy that awaits us in the second act with the arrival of the Candy Man. The Candy Man, played by Abby Green, brings joy to the children of the streets with his cart full of confections while delivering joy to the audience in the form of the famous musical number “The Candy Man Can”. Green’s sugar sweet performance was spot on and mesmerizing and was adorned by the back up vocals of the Candy Man Kids played by Gissel Diaz, Ivonne Beltran, Jessica Dickey, Jocelyn Ruiz, Jovanna Berrios, and Kalitha Silva.
Throughout the remainder of the first act we are introduced, one by one, to the colorful assembly of golden ticket recipients as they, and their parents, are interviewed by Phineous Trout, played hilariously by Kyla Miller. The first ticket was found by a young German boy named Augustus Gloop, played by Joey Carnevalino. Joey did such a great job being Augustus that it’s hard to imagine that he isn’t really the food crazed chocoholic in his daily life. Natalie Welky played Mrs. Gloop, Augustus’ mother, with an impeccable German accent and a vocal performance that almost blew the roof off the auditorium.
Next, we meet Veruca Salt and her mother, Mrs. Salt, played by Maia Piedra and Makayla Hornsby. Piedra portrayed a posh British spoiled little girl who is accustomed to getting her way and more from her very overly controlling mother. Maia’s performance was so convincing that I, myself, wanted to send her to the corner for a time-out! Following the Salts arrival we are introduced to Mrs. Beauregarde, played by Hayley Boone, and her daughter Violet, played by Kaylee Wills, who is an avid gum chewer. Kaylee delivered her lines peppered with southern sass in-between deliberate chomps of chewing chatter.
After the gum smacking subsides we meet the next golden ticket finder Mike Teavee and his mother Ms. Teavee. Both of the Teavees are glued to their electronic devices and rarely make eye contact with any other character. Mike, portrayed by Filiberto Trejo, was so enthralled with playing video games that it’s a wonder he took his hands off of the video controls long enough to unwrap and eat a chocolate bar, much less notice the existence of a golden ticket, but Trejo managed to bring an element of charm to the hyper-focused character that left smiles on the faces of the audience. Ms. Teavee is portrayed by Kyleigh Stitt.
The final ticket, through a series of serendipitous events, was found by our poor young Charlie who will be accompanied by the even more excited Grandpa Joe. Tyler Nesbit’s characterization of Grandpa Joe was both cantankerous and endearing.
After a brief intermission the curtains opened on a new and colorful set which was Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. The entirety of act two consisted of Wonka taking the children and parents on a tour of different rooms of the factory, each room presenting one of the children with some temptations that would prove too hard to overcome for the young visitors and one by one they are plucked from the tour in the fashion of an Agatha Christie murder mystery novel. As each of the children are pulled from the tour we are entertained by a song of summation of the plot thus far by the mythical Oompa Loompas (creatures that have been brought to work in the chocolate factory) played by Journey Vidaurri, Melissa Gonzalez, Terryn Horton, Charisma Castaneda, Emelia Puerto, Grace McGirt, Vivianna Rodriguez, and Taelor Carvell.
Magic mixed with innovation is the name of the game at the Wonka factory as they are developing gum in the flavor of four course meals, fizzy pop that makes the drinker float, and employ two of the most adorable squirrels I’ve ever seen, played by Nicholas Carr and Cierra Hernandez (who also double up as Charlie’s friends James and Matilda in Act 1) as nut inspectors.
At the end of the tour the only guests left with Willy Wonka are Charlie and his Grandpa Joe and it’s revealed that the entire endeavor, from ticket to tour, was a test of character to find the one person that Wonka could trust enough to take over his role at the chocolate factory.
Along with the excellent performances by the young actors, the production value of the show, from the creative sets, the vibrant, colorful costumes, and the imaginative use of lighting to create special effects throughout the show was very impressive. Hats off to Olivia Billings and her crew for a job well done.
The show was crewed by Benjamin Potter, Hannah Boone, Ansley Hand, Ashlyn Hood, Nyah Aguilar, Sophia Suarez, Giselle Contreras, Jaiden Spencer, Mari Veliz, Daniella Gomez, Gisselle Marinez-Borralle, Rodrigo Rodriguez, and Roxanna Rodriguez.
The production team would like to thank Mr. Pickles and the administration, Stella Luckey, Bobby Billings, Jennifer Weber, David Weber, Kristin Green, Ashley Curry, Brittany Morrison, Amanda Nisbet, Tara Sherrod and First Baptist of LaBelle, Benjamin Potter, Tina Wills, all of the parent volunteers, Ms. Pool and the custodial staff, and everyone who encouraged the students to listen to the call of that creative stirring inside of them that is indeed the magic of the theatre.