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'Wonka' is a chocolate lover's delight

September 14, 2010|By Mary Burkin

The greatest charm of the Stepping Stone Players' most recent production, "Willy Wonka," lies in its outstanding mixed cast of children and adults. Eleven-year-old Austin Kelly as our hero — sweet, decent, chocolate-loving Charlie Bucket, is a triple threat — able to act, sing and fly 20 feet into the air, all at the same time.

Allan Hunt, so memorable as the Wizard in last year's Stepping Stone production of "The Wizard of Oz," holds his own as Charlie's Grandpa Joe, competing with five small scene-stealers — if you don't count the three dozen or so children who either sing and dance as Towns Kids, or as Oompa Loompas.

All performances are delightfully reminiscent of the ones in the 1971 classic movie version, starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. In both the movie and the play, Charlie's dreams come true when he wins a tour of Willy Wonka's mysterious candy factory after finding a Golden Ticket in his Wonka Bar. So do four obnoxious little brats, played to perfection by four young actors with lists of professional credits longer than their arms.

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There's the cheerfully piggish August Gloop (Lorenz Nicholas); the loud-mouthed, charmless, "Can it, you nit!" Violet Beauregarde (Danielle Soibelman); Material Girl "I want an Oompa Loompa now!" Veruca Salt (Chanelle Nibbelink); and Mike Teevee, literally obsessed with his TV set (Carter Thomas) whose own mother (Kathleen Campbell) proudly exclaims, "I serve all his TV dinners right here. He's never even been to the table." Which brings up the topic of the splendid work turned in by each and every onstage parent. Overseeing it all is Willy Wonka himself, as channeled by John Stephens with dry wit, light-footed finesse, and an outstanding singing voice.

That there are no weak links in this chain of magic isn't simply a tribute to the actors. It's a tribute to the amount of dormant talent in our local neighborhoods in general, and to director Kristopher Kyer's sharp eye in particular. His experience on the road with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey's Three-Ring Circus seems to have come in handy.

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