Tag Archives: “Willy Wonka

Saugatuck El’s “Willy Wonka”: Scrumpdiddlyumptious!

This month, Greens Farms Elementary School staged its first-ever musical.

Now it’s time for Saugatuck El’s (star) turn.

When the curtain rises on “Willy Wonka” this Friday and Saturday (March 29 and 30), it will be the culmination of a true community effort.

It takes a special kind of person to stage an elementary school show. Second grade teacher Katie Bloom was just back from maternity leave. But she’s a theater veteran — from age 8 through Hofstra University — and hey, there’s a special kind of people known as “show people.”

In less than a month Bloom helped form the Saugatuck Theater Club. Casting began. Anyone who tried out was promised at least a small part.

She hoped for enough children to fill every role. She got 120.

That number was impressive. The talent: even more so.

Some of the “Willy Wonka” leads.

The 3 rounds of callbacks demonstrated, Bloom says, how much the SES students wanted the program.

Bloom was aided by an army of parents. Jen Berniker, Miriam Young and Carole Chinn led the charge. Working with principal Beth Messler, they created a Movie Night fundraiser.

John and Pam Nunziato — parents of one of the leads — own a branding and design firm. They created Wonka and STC logos, developed projection backdrops (parents took up a collection to buy the screen), signage, Wonka Bars and a playbill.

The “Willy Wonka” Imagination Room.

The Caricato family donated printing costs. The Greelys spent hours making enormous sets. Melissa Crouch Chang designed and sewed costumes for every cast member (including 60 Oompa Loompas).

Other parents supervised rehearsals, worked backstage or simply spread the word.

Middle school youngsters helped with choreography, stage management, lighting and sound.

Professional photographer/SES dad John Videler gifted every cast member with a head shot.

Then there was Saugatuck El mom Megan Bolan. A Broadway performer, teacher and choreographer, she worked with the cast on major numbers.

The entire school got in the spirit. Guess what book they chose for their annual “One Book, Two Schools” event? And thanks to the art department, “candy art” now blankets the halls.

“This has engaged faculty, students and parents,” says principal Messler. “It’s created new opportunities for our community to connect with one another. It’s been a one-of-a-kind experience.”

The show is just under an hour (very kid-friendly!).

Of course, there will be chocolate. Doors open 45 minutes early, so theater-goers can visit the candy shop (featuring hand-made Wonka Bars, commissioned by a local chocolatier).

Five lucky winners at each show will open their bars to find a golden ticket. One gets a scrumpdiddlyumptious grand prize.

So what will the Saugatuck Theater Club do for an encore?

I have no idea. But they’re already making plans for next year.

(“Willy Wonka” will be performed Friday, March 29 at 7 p.m., and Saturday, March 30 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $5 each; click here to order.)

Matt Van Gessel’s Mysterious “Willy Wonka”

Lots of people like “Willy Wonka.”

Matt Van Gessel loves “Willy Wonka.”

The 2011 Staples grad — now a rising sophomore at North Carolina School of the Arts — has vast experience playing not-quite-normal characters. (Remember the dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors”?)

This weekend he gets his shot at another. Matt stars as Willy Wonka in Staples Players’ summer production of the same name. The show runs Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., in the high school auditorium.

Matt Van Gessel (Willy Wonka) and Maddy Rozynek (Violet Beauregarde). (Photo/Kerry Long)

Matt knows a lot about the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” He says that Gene Wilder — Willy — saw it as a movie for adults, not kids.

Wilder “seems whimsical and crazy, but viewed from an adult perspective, we see the creepy resentment he has toward kids,” Matt says. “Every time I watch his performance, I find something new and unusual.”

Matt says that Willy feels “very pleased with himself when each kids gets his comeuppance — like when they turn into blueberries and shrink. Justice has been done. It’s a twisted way of teaching kids lessons.”

Matt adds, “Willy Wonka is an instantly recognizable cultural character, like King Kong. Everyone knows who Willy is, but I’m approaching it with an open mind. I’m not copying Gene Wilder. I’m just using him for inspiration, so I can arrive at my own interpretation.”

Matt has also seen the 2005 movie version, with Johnny Depp.

Using those two actors as inspiration, Matt says, “I think I can bring the arc of a real character.” His Willy is “a bit more accessible as a real human being. He has depth, and soul.”

Matt draws upon the lives of “real life eccentrics,” like Salvador Dali, Howard Hughes and Michael Jackson.

Johnny Shea (Grandpa Joe) and Will Haskell (Charlie) in the “Fizzy Lifting Room.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Directors David Roth and Kerry Long have enjoyed working with a large ensemble. The show features popular songs like “Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination.” It’s got every trademark of a Staples Players production, including spectacular costumes.

Matt is excited about all that. But — as a self-described Willy Wonka “obsessive” — he always comes back to his character.

“I’ve put a large amount of thought into Willy’s objectives, and ulterior motives,” the lead actor explains.

“Some of those ideas I haven’t told to anyone, including Mr. Roth. I like being able to keep Willy Wonka’s secrets. It adds an air of mystery to everything.”

(Click here for ticket information on “Willy Wonka.”)