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Tour the chocolate factory with Lamphere High’s ‘Willy Wonka’

Drama Club’s annual spring musical set for April 23-26

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 22, 2015

 From left, Oompa Loompas Jenna Shuten, McKenna Richard and Evie Richard will appear alongside Joshua Watson as Willy Wonka in the Lamphere High Drama Club’s upcoming spring musical, “Willy Wonka.”

From left, Oompa Loompas Jenna Shuten, McKenna Richard and Evie Richard will appear alongside Joshua Watson as Willy Wonka in the Lamphere High Drama Club’s upcoming spring musical, “Willy Wonka.”

Photo provided by Cindy Isham

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MADISON HEIGHTS — More than 70 kids from four elementary schools will be turned into Oompa Loompas at the end of the month as part of the Lamphere High Drama Club’s springtime musical, “Willy Wonka.”

With green wigs, orange-painted faces and pants that are truly fancy, the Oompa Loompas in the play are reminiscent of how they appeared in the 1971 movie, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” starring Gene Wilder. Both are adapted from the 1964 children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” by British author Roald Dahl.

Willy Wonka, played by Joshua Watson, will also look similar to Gene Wilder’s take on the famous chocolatier. Judy Lewis, the play’s director and club advisor, said the similarities are intentional.

“We decided we’d try to do everything classic, like the old movie, so the parents would remember and so the kids would have the same experience their parents did years ago,” Judy said. “The whole first act is full of story and music, and you see some pretty awesome things. But it looks simplistic compared to the second act. It’s all building toward the visit to the chocolate factory — the ‘Ta-da!’ moment in Act 2 where you go inside. And I think we’re killing it. When the curtains open on Act 2 and the music kicks in and you see the chocolate factory, it’s just magical.”

The play has about 160 kids involved, with around 45 actors from the high school, 75 Oompa Loompas from the four elementary schools in the Lamphere district, 30 kids in the orchestra, and 10 kids who work backstage and do tech. Many of the extras in the play also help out backstage.

One of the ways that the play is different from the film is its characterization.

“I think the play does a much better job of explaining Willy Wonka’s quest to find someone with the heart to take on his chocolate factory,” Judy said. “The movie had a bit of weirdness to it, so I think you missed those details, but the play is more heavy-handed and direct about the whole idea that you’re supposed to think positive, follow your heart and become who you’re supposed to be.

“The whole problem of Willy Wonka set up in the beginning is, ‘Who will I leave my factory to, and who will love it like I do?’ And it’s cool how they build the character of Charlie, so you can see the passion and the love he has inside of him,” Judy said. “I feel it’s easier to understand.”

She noted how the late Roald Dahl continued to update the play over the years.

“You still have elements like Charlie’s dad at the toothpaste factory screwing on toothpaste caps, but then later on, you now hear Mike Teavee speaking on his cellphone to Oprah Winfrey,” Judy said. “You think to yourself, ‘When have those two things ever existed in the same decade ever?’ That’s what’s wonky about this play. It doesn’t want you to put it in a certain time, because it’s timeless — it’s the human struggle through all the decades. It’s a timeless story about dreaming and believing in magic and making sure you attain what you were meant to do on this Earth.”

Judy’s husband, Rick Lewis, executive director of the Madison Heights Community Family Coalition, once worked on Broadway and has a lot of experience designing sets. He said “Willy Wonka” is shaping up to be a complex production.

“As someone who loves theater, it’s great to see it all coming together,” Rick said. “You have the directors, the actors, the dance choreographers, the orchestra and more, all adding their talents. It’s like the expression: ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ So much organization is involved, and so many pieces, both onstage and behind the scenes. But everyone’s been supportive in that respect. A lot of people are excited — there’s a great buzz going. Now it’s just a rush to the finish.”

The Lamphere High Drama Club has two productions each year: one in the fall and one in the spring. Last fall, they put on “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley,” celebrating the 50th anniversary of the children’s book “Flat Stanley,” by Jeff Brown. With that play, and now “Willy Wonka,” the Drama Club hopes to promote literacy among its younger students.

“Working with the Oompa Loompas, reading has been a constant topic,” Judy said. “We talk with the kids about their favorite books, and how they translate to the stage and screen.”

The casting of children as Oompa Loompas came as a relief to the high school students, Judy said. She noted that some of the Drama Club members were nervous that she’d have them don the green wigs and orange face paint.

“The shorter ones, especially,” Judy said with a laugh. “But I told them I’m not making any high school kids into Oompa Loompas. And then I told them my plan to use elementary school kids. They thought I was a genius! And the little kids are so honored to be in the play. It’s good for building the program, and it’s a way for the older kids to give back to the younger kids.”

Judy said she’s confident that the Drama Club has put together a show that stays true to the story’s enduring appeal.

“It is magical,” Judy said. “This show is full of magic.”

The Lamphere High Drama Club’s springtime musical, “Willy Wonka,” will take place at Lamphere High School, 610 W. 13 Mile Road in Madison Heights, from April 23-26. The show is at 7 p.m. April 23-25, and at 2 p.m. April 26.

Tickets are $6 for students of any age and senior citizens, and $10 for adults. For more information, call Lamphere High at (248) 589-3943.

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