"Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" is a colorful chaos of curiousness, and Mountain Ridge Junior High School is in the spirit this week. The cast and crew of more than 100 students under the direction of drama teacher Brittni Smith have worked hard to make the production live up to its fun-ly peculiar reputation.
Onstage and off stage, all of Smith's students have extended themselves with the goal of creating the magical Wonka world. For something so fun, there have been hours and hours of work.
"The hardest thing has been memorizing all the lines, and then doing them with so much energy," ninth-grader Stephen Brailsford, who plays Mr. Salt, said.
Ashby Orgill, the eighth-grader who plays Charlie, agreed.
"It's been tough running my lines at home and then squeezing in homework with all our rehearsals," he said.
Still, Smith said she is impressed with the students' creativity.
"The stage crew designed and built an amazing set. It includes a swing set, slippery slide, a 'plinko board' and motorized gears that spin on their own," she said. "It is a challenge to build a set that requires many different rooms, but they came up with a way to use one set and use different parts of the stage for different rooms. I am so proud of what my crew came up with for this show."
Stephen said he wanted to be in the play because of the zaniness of the Willy Wonka world.
"I love the story of Willy Wonka -- it's such a fun, energetic play. Besides, I love candy," he said with a laugh.
Many of the cast and crew agree with him on both points.
"It's been so fun to watch people go through such a drastic change from regular people to Oompa Loompas or something," Nikole Zetting, the eighth-grader playing Mrs. Beauregarde, said.
Of course, Wonka would be nothing without the colorful costumes. M'liss Tolman, dubbed the costume queen at Tuesday night's dress rehearsal, put in 13-hour sewing days. Her efforts sparkle in the dizzying array of detailed dashes of color and coordination.
The play is a musical based on Roald Dahl's book. It includes songs and dances, some recognizable from the movie productions and some unique to the play. It also has given the MRJH students a chance to shine in a different style.
"I chose 'Willy Wonka' because it is a fun, energetic, quirky, but heart-warming story that people are familiar with. I've always loved the book," Smith said. "We did 'Fiddler on the Roof' last year. It was a huge success and so much fun to produce, but I wanted the students to experience a completely different style of show. 'Fiddler' is more tender and realistic; 'Willy Wonka' is exaggerated and colorful."
The cast and crew has had fun promoting their play as well.
"We've been selling Wonka Bars at lunch for the past week. Some lucky students have found 'Golden Comp Tickets' in their bar, good for free tickets to see the show. It's created a lot of buzz among the students," Smith said. "We've also had a few Oompa Loompa Flash Mobs at lunch. Music starts, and suddenly 40 people are dancing in the commons with no explanation. I love hearing the students chatter about it afterward. 'Why were they dancing? How do they all know the same dance? Was it from the show? We should go see it!' It is creating the exact publicity we were looking for."
This production includes a full orchestra under the direction of band teacher Richard Bateman. For Nikole, that was one of the hardest parts of the show.
"We learned all the songs with a music track, but then we've had to get used to the tempo of the live orchestra. That's been hard," Nikole said.
For Alec Stratton, the ninth-grader who plays Mr. Wonka himself, it's been hard for entirely different reasons.
"It's been hard not making (my character) too creepy -- making it kinda creepy, but not serial killer crazy, more just little kid creepy," he said with a smile.