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With a big cast, ‘Willy Wonka’ draws little actors

Courtney Stinson

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The Tuscaloosa Children’s Theatre is bringing the popular children’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl to the Bama Theatre this weekend with its production of “Willy Wonka.”

The play tells the story of Charlie Bucket, a poor, young boy who, along with four other children, wins the unique opportunity to visit the candy factory of mysterious chocolatier Willy Wonka. Wonka, unbeknownst to the winners, will choose one of them to inherit his factory. The winners are faced with unusual tests of character as they explore the factory and encounter Wonka’s singing employees, the Oompa Loompas.

The stage adaptation of the novel combines the book with elements of the 1977 film version of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and the more recent Tim Burton film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The play will also feature well-known songs from the 1977 film version, such as “Oompa Loompa,” “The Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination.”

The TCT chose to perform “Willy Wonka” because it is a familiar story that will engage the audience’s imagination.

“‘Willy Wonka’ is a well-loved, classic story of hope and magic,” TCT director Sara-Margaret Cates said. “Tuscaloosa Children’s Theatre chose this show because it offers a wonderful opportunity for local theatre lovers and newcomers alike to experience this imaginative and exciting show.”

“Willy Wonka” also appealed to the TCT because it allowed for a large cast.

“We liked the idea of a larger cast,” Drew Baker, TCT artistic coordinator, said. “We knew that with the Oompa Loompas and the other characters, the play would lend itself to a larger cast.”

“Willy Wonka” features a cast of 100 local young people of ages ranging from five to 22. The cast has a varied range of theatrical experience. For some cast members, this will be their first show, while others have over 10 years of performing experience. Despite their different levels of experience, Cates said audiences will be impressed with the talent demonstrated by the young actors.

Along with the more familiar elements of the story, the play has been adapted in some new ways by the Tuscaloosa Children’s Theatre. For instance, the Oompa Loompas, traditionally known for their green hair and bright orange skin, will be debuting a new look in this weekend’s production.

Baker said her favorite part of the production is the Oompa Loompas.

“They’re very animated, and they’ll have very colorful costumes and wigs. I love watching them because of their energy,” she said.

Though it is based on a children’s book, Cates said adults will be able to enjoy “Willy Wonka” and the way in which it brings to life a familiar childhood story with a positive message.

“The story is a dance down memory lane for many of us. [The play] is a chance to relive the magic of our childhoods,” Cates said. “Also, the messages of hope, love, family and imagination are timeless and a great reminder to us all.”

For the TCT, producing the play presented some challenges in creating the seemingly magical aspects of the chocolate factory, but according to Cates, the production and design team have been able to bring the magic of “Willy Wonka” to life.

“One of my greatest challenges was creating the magic of the show on a limited budget with limited technical gadgets or special effects,” Cates said. “I’m very pleased with my production team and designers. They really make this show come alive.”

Performances will take place Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets range in price from $4 to $21 and are available at tuscloosachildrenstheatre.com.

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With a big cast, ‘Willy Wonka’ draws little actors