One of the largest casts to ever take the stage at Heritage Theatre brings the beloved children's classic "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" to Utah audiences beginning this weekend.
In a bold move, director Bonnie Richardson of Brigham City chose a cast of 50 to perform the musical, including 38 children.
Richardson teaches drama classes at the Fine Arts Center in Brigham City, and has been directing for eight years.
"I love directing because I love kids," Richardson said. "I am such a believer in theater because it helps kids come out of their shells and teaches them important skills." Having a large cast allowed her to include more talented children. And, some might argue that her miniature, green-haired Oompa-Loompas are as cute as they come.
In the show, eccentric candymaker Willy Wonka holds a contest by hiding five golden tickets in candy bar wrappers. The five winners are rewarded with a tour of his ultra-secretive and magical candy factory. One of the five is also promised a lifetime supply of candy.
Playing off this story, the theater decided to hold a fundraiser in which five audience members will also win a candy factory tour. The Idle Isle, a local restaurant and chocolate company, has donated its signature candy bars to be sold at the performances. Five candy bars contain golden tickets. Winners will receive a tour of the Idle Isle candy facility and one pound of chocolates.
Charlie and Grandpa
One of the five lucky golden-ticket winners in the show, Charlie Bucket, is played by Payton Smoot, 11, of Brigham City.
Although this is his introduction to theater, Smoot is no stranger to the stage. He said he realized he loved singing at the age of 8 and for the past two years has been training and performing with a local dancing and singing group. His instructor tipped Smoot's mom off about the auditions.
When he found out he had landed a leading role, Smoot said he was both "happy and nervous." Although memorizing lines has been a new experience, he was able to pick up on the choreography quickly.
In addition to the performing arts, Smoot stays busy with football, baseball and wrestling. He said he admires Charlie's character because he is happy and kind and works hard to cheer up the people around him, even though his own life is hard and his family has no money.
At Charlie's side is his Grandpa Joe, played by Duane Rice of Brigham City. Now 75 years old, Rice said acting has been a lifelong hobby. In his youth, he was very small for his age, so he started filling in for roles of young children in the high school plays by the time he was in the seventh grade.
Now, he said, he looks for plays that offer parts for seniors and was excited to be cast in this particular play because he loves the music.
"This is the largest cast I've known to be at Heritage and this group is just excellent," he said. He has enjoyed working with Smoot, calling him a "super talent."
He believes audiences will enjoy the colorful candyland set and the high-energy entertainment. "There is something going on all the time. The audience will wish it hadn't gotten over so quickly, even though it is a full-length production," Rice said.
Jay Naumann of Brigham City is playing the role of the quirky but lovable Willy Wonka. "I have been performing on local stages since I was 5," he said, adding that these days he only tries out for shows he can do with his daughter, Amelia Naumann. This marks their third show together; she is playing the part of Violet, another golden-ticket winner.
"It's a show I've always wanted to do. I love chocolate and the whimsical feeling of Willy Wonka," Naumann said, describing Wonka as a person who doesn't take life too seriously.
"He is a perfectionist in his craft, but he doesn't get bogged down by it like we tend to do in the corporate world," Naumann said.
Naumann's favorite aspects of the show are the musical score, the choreography and working with the kids.