Chocolate with a twist

South Valley Civic Theater presents Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka

STAGE MAGIC Janelle Cummings painting lollipops for the chocolate smelting room in South Valley Civic Theater’s production of Willy Wonka, opening June 23. STAGE MAGIC Janelle Cummings painting lollipops for the chocolate smelting room in South Valley Civic Theater’s production of Willy Wonka, opening June 23, 2017. Photo: Jason Leong
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect show for community theater groups than Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, with a cast that can be expanded to accommodate any number of aspiring and experienced actors, and of all ages from little kids to grandparents.

And imagination is the key word for a show that lets the cast, production crew and audience members of any age let their creative imaginations run free.

“The whole idea of our set is very imaginative, and of course the music adds to that,” said Carol Harris, who is directing the musical for South Valley Civic Theatre. At a rehearsal 10 days before the June 23 opening night, the cast was still in street clothes, the set was still under construction, and only lights dancing across the curtain and stage hinted at something magical in the works.

The story, based on Dahl’s 1964 children’s book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, follows young Charlie Bucket, who is among five winners of a tour of Willy Wonka’s magnificent chocolate factory. Earlier film and stage versions have starred Johnny Depp and Gene Wilder in the role of the chocolate magnate.

“We approached, in a way, of going off the book idea,” said producer Robin Bezanson. “Roald Dahl was an author; he traded in written words. One of our set pieces mimics the book in a lot of ways, more of a tribute to him.”

Trap doors, special effects and a huge painted backdrop to represent the chocolate factory are all part of the show’s imaginary verisimilitude, said Harris. Bubbles are painted on the backdrop using paint that shows only under black light.

“It’s all very colorful and imaginative,” she said.

Bezanson said it was limitations only of the space itself, time and money that curtailed her creative team.

“Our brainstorming sessions for our production team were always, ‘we could do this, we could do that,’” she said. “When you get a show with so many options and color, it’s so off the wall that anything goes.”

Bezanson said she wanted the production to focus on the humor of the original story. “We wanted it to be an endearing, loving kind of Wonka.”

SVCT found that in Jason Harris, who stars at Wonka opposite 11-year-old Maya King as Charlie.

“He’s pulled it off really well,” said Bezanson. “He takes a scene and puts a twist of his own on it. He has a knack of doing that.”

“There’s a lot of humor in the show that adults will relate to,” she said. “We’ve seen the show thousands of times, it seems like, and it’s still funny. That’s a good sign if your production team is still laughing during rehearsals.”

The show’s run includes a July 15 matinee that is “sensory/young child friendly.”


‘Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka’ June 23-July 15 at South Valley Civic Theatre, 17090 Monterey Road, Morgan Hill. Tickets $15 students, $18 seniors, $22 general.; 408.842.SHOW.

Susan Rife
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About Susan Rife
Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.