When director Christine Taylor started the Auburn Community Players in 2011, she had no idea where the program would head. But this past weekend, with 48 young actors performing three sold out shows to over 450 people, she could be proud of what ACP has become.
“This is the first time we did not have tickets to offer the general public” said Taylor between shows Saturday night. Tickets were free, and were made available to families at the end of the first week of the program. By the following Monday, all three performances had sold out. “It was a scramble even getting some of the kids’ parents seats!” Taylor added.
In the end, all the families and many friends and relatives were accommodated, and they were treated to a wonderful rendition of Willy Wonka.
The ACP Summer Theater workshop is a two week program for students in fourth to eighth grade. The program has grown significantly each year, with Taylor actually having to turn kids away this season. “It kills me to say no” said Taylor. “Wonka has a huge cast and it’s flexible with the ensembles. I can have lots of Oompa Loompas. But this was about our limit.”
During those two weeks, students learn lines, learn songs, learn dances, work with a music director (John Eldridge), work with choreographers (Jackie Johnson and Caitlyn Foley), make props with production assistants Taylor Plumley, Kayla Granger and a host of parent volunteers, and even build sets.
From the audience point of view, just moments into the performance, you forgot that the show was pulled together in two weeks, and you forgot you were watching a bunch of kids. John Nichols playing Willy Wonka did a wonderful job capturing the reclusive and mischievous Wonka. DJ Brigham as Charlie was perfect to portray the innocent Charlie Bucket. Of course, you can’t have Charlie without Uncle Joe – played by Jacob Baronas.
Especially impressive were the Golden Ticket winners: Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee, along with their “parents”, who assumed the roles and the accents surprisingly well. The overeating Gloop played by Adam Plumley and his “mother”, played by Gabrielle Berthiaume, were thoroughly entertaining as the German winners. Haley Norris played gum chewing Violet Beauregarde with
Alyssa Sarkisian playing Mrs. Beauregarde. Norris was a bundle of energy with her spunky southern accent.
Madison Poshkus was almost too believable as the spoiled rotten Veruca Salt. Her piercing pleas in the song, “I Want it Now” were true to the movie, and her singing was eerily similar to the original Willy
Wonka soundtrack. Colin Cunningham as Mr. Salt provided two of the lighter moments of the show as he shined during the winner’s interview with reporter Quinneous Trout (Quinne Masiello), and again diving down the slide after Veruca in the squirrel room scene. (Interestingly, the play is more closely tied to the Roald Dahl novel, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, than to the movie version, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. There are no geese in the play or the book, there are walnut-cracking squirrels instead.)
Luke LaBonte played the television-addicted Mike Teavee, and was appropriately rude and ill-tempered (a role he would be well-advised not to reprise at home), and Emma Vokes as Mrs. Teavee gave a wonderful performance as the flustered but enabling mother.
The 28 Oompa Loompas provided a powerful sound on the Great Hall as they sang each Oompla Loompa song. Dressed in crazy hats and tie-dye shirts they made themselves during the workshop, they were quite a sight taking over the stage after each contestant faltered and was whisked away by the Oompa Loompas.
For some of these performers, Willy Wonka was one of many shows in which they have performed, while for others this was the first. Regardless of experience, it was a great experience for all of the 48 participants. They in turn provided a great experience for the more than 450 people who came out to watch the three shows this weekend.
If you missed Willy Wonka, it may be some consolation that the Auburn Community Players teen summer theater program will be performing “Schoolhouse Rock” based on the popular 1970s cartoon series. There are two free performances, Thursday, July 31 at 6pm and Friday, August 1 at 6pm. Both shows are being held at the Riley-Pappas Pavilion at the Pappas Recreation Complex.
Rumor also has it that ACP – after taking last fall off – may be working a holiday show for this year. In the past, ACP performed Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”. ACP is open to anyone who would like to perform, and the fall shows are open to all ages, not just students. Keep an eye out for future announcements.