Want to immerse yourself in chocolate for Christmas? You might do worse than take in “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka,” a lighter-than-marshmallow musical that premiered in 2004 based on Dahl’s 1964 kids’ book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and on the 1971 Gene Wilder movie that followed. A local production of the musical opened downtown tonight at Actors Cabaret, which is — mercifully — substituting it for yet another version of “A Christmas Carol” on this year’s holiday calendar.
Directed and designed by Joe Zingo, this is the kind of show ACE does best: fun, light, frothy and a little camp. Zingo knows how to make the most of a community theater cast, kids and all, not to mention a community theater production budget, and this “Willy” moves breathlessly and delightfully along, right from the opening number (“Pure Imagination”) by Tony Joyner as the weirdly dark chocolate magnate Willy Wonka.
In the story, the world’s imagination is set afire when Wonka announces that he’s slipped five golden tickets into Wonka chocolate bars, entitling their lucky recipients to a tour of his secretive chocolate factory — and a lifetime supply of his chocolate.
This sets in motion Dahl’s wonderfully caustic look at over-entitled children and their clueless parents — the winners of the golden tickets — from the unforgettable Veruca Salt, played here to spoiled perfection by Emily Westlund, to the gum-chewing southerner Violet Beauregard, played by Jane Brinkley. Orion Van Buskirk is a perfectly piggish Agustus Gloop, and Manny Longnight is delightfully irritating as the tech-absorbed Mike Teavee.
The hero of the tale, of course, is the modest Charlie Bucket, played with grownup grace and poise — and with a heck of a singing voice, too — by Samuel Rose.
Yes, the show has some adults, too. Bruce McCarthy does a star turn as Veruca Salt’s self-absorbed father, and Tom Grimsley steals much of the end of the show as Grandpa Joe, who hauls himself out of the bed he shares with Charlie’s other three grandparents to join young Charlie on the factory tour.
The music is familiar and fun. Zingo’s sets and costumes are sparkling, and the traditionally over-the-top Christmas decorations at ACE turn the entire theater into a work of fevered imagination.
Go see this, and maybe even reserve dinner at the theater with your show. The whole package makes a great holiday night out.
“Willy Wonka” runs through December17. Find out more at ActorsCabaret.org.