Flint Youth Theatre Puts on Delicious “Wonka”
FLINT, Mich. – The Flint Youth Theatre knows how to put on a show. They pull out all the stops and create magic on the stage with bright colors, strange machines, neon projections and coordinated costumes that tell a story.
The story, directed by Andrew Morton, is Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka and it’s one filled with a belief in goodness and generosity, bright colors and young people committed to their craft. The most impressive elements of the show are the technical elements, starting with Tim McMath’s scenic design, whether it is the dilapidated house the Buckets live in or the fantastical, other-worldly factory of the ultimate candy maker.
Drew Florida’s lighting design is similarly impressive, creating the boat scene out of whole cloth with creepy animated projections. Adam M. Dill’s costume design helped create character for the four naughty children who visited the factory while putting the British village children in warm chocolate clothing. The Oompa Loompas were unique and different—they weren’t the version from the movie, but were their own delightful creation, painted in pastels and accented with glow-in-the-dark light-up strips. And his costume for Willy Wonka was a work of art.
Willy Wonka captures the familiar story while updating it with references to wi-fi, the Internet and even a rap version of one of the Oompa Loompa songs. It’s populated with the classic songs such as “Pure Imagination,” “The Candy Man,” “Cheer Up, Charlie,” and all the Oompa Loompa songs. In it, we meet Charlie Bucket (played by Syd Brown), a boy from a very poor family who is devoted to his parents and the four bed-ridden grandparents. Devoted candy lovers, they hope that Charlie can find a golden ticket which will mean a lifetime supply of chocolate and a tour of the famed chocolate factory which has been closed for years.
Brown does an excellent job of making Charlie likable and sympathetic—something key to making this show work. Brown is especially good in the first half of the show, setting up that Charlie is a good kid, the opposite of the spoiled and bratty kids who win the other tickets. Charlie’s duet with his father is sweet to watch, as are the interactions with the Candy Man.
Dan Gerics, who also did music direction and sound design, played the title role of Willy Wonka. He has a powerful opening that starts mid-audience and moves through them to the stage. It’s a difficult role because the candy factory owner has to be larger than life and Gerics was merely life-size. His singing was more often complex than powerful. However, he interacted well with the visitors to his factory, zinging them with sarcasm and physical mockery. Gerics also did a wonderful job as the candy man, excelling with “The Candy Man” song and showing great chemistry with Brown in their first act scenes.
The bed-ridden grandparents are a lot of fun, especially LaTroy Childress as the deaf grandpa who mixes up everyone’s words and shouts out his confusion.
Each of the golden ticket winners have their own unique traits, making them fun to watch. Evan Brewer as Augustus Gloop was delightfully repulsive, and it was a shame to see him ejected so early from the factory tour as he was so much fun to watch. He and Madaline Harkema as Mrs. Gloop turn the German accent into something entertaining and their “I Eat More!” song lets the audience know what it has in store for the rest of the show.
Kate Spademan’s Veruca Salt is always posing, always pushing herself forward as the spoiled darling who insists on always getting her way. Alexis Crochran’s Violet Beauregarde is sassy and confident, sure of her gum chewing championships. Enrique Varga’s Mike Teevee is filled with energy, self-important as the center of his own electronic empire where television and the Internet rules.
Throughout the show, the acting outshined the singing, with each character creating a memorable contribution to the story that always helped move it along without ever stealing focus or the scene.
Flint Youth Theatre has built an ensemble that works well together and the same actors return from show to show, each time creating an experience for their audiences that is rewarding and entertaining. “Willy Wonka” fills that bill, with FYT technicians creating a spectacle that is worthy of the fantastical nature of this show.