I Want More . . . Wonka!

Last week I shared a little roundup of the arts in our community, but because I’ve been an insider for the latest Owen County Civic Theater (OCCT) production, I’d like to share more. And frankly, I’ve got nothing on my mind this week but this musical comedy-drama. The entire production of “Willie Wonka the Musical” serves as a perfect example of the value of arts in our daily lives.

Our cast, crew, and pit orchestra is made up of mostly children and teens. Us oldsters, who are lucky enough to work with these talented young artists, benefit from their exuberance.

Our intrepid co-directors Jessica Barrett, the drama stuff, and Landon Parker Curtis, the music stuff, have been working on the production, including the business plan, staging, set building, casting, choreography, costuming, and music, for an entire year now.

The pit orchestra, under Landon’s direction, has been learning, rearranging, and rehearsing the music since early this year. Travis Floyd has assisted as the pit director and shown amazing skill and poise. Our choreographer Larkin Seymour has contributed her creativity by adding dance to the story and helped everyone learn their steps – an exercise in patience for sure.

The cast did their first read through in mid-March and proved to be quick studies, learning their lines early so that all the other complex work could follow. Memorizing lines is one of the skills that the cast, especially the young actors, will benefit from in their future. It’s good brain work for us ancients, too.

The whole process has just been building in excitement and activity since. A musical production is amazingly complicated and this one is being carried out by amateurs in their spare time as a way to enrich their lives. They hope the production will enrich your lives, too.

With over 50 actors, musicians, and technicians behind this ambitious production, I’m just not able to fit all the names here, but I did have a chance at one of our final rehearsals to talk to the five young actors who bring the roles of the golden ticket finders to life on stage.

Cullen Light, 14 and a freshman at Owen Valley, entertains as the always hungry Augustus Gloop. “Wonka” is Cullen’s third stage performance but first musical. He knows music from his work in the school marching band but has now been introduced to singing which he admits is, “pretty cool but hard as well.” Watching natural teachers like Jessica and Landon help Cullen expand his skill and talents is one of the rewarding things about being on hand to witness this process.

Portraying the spoiled rotten Veruca Salt could be a real stretch for polite and demure 16 year old Owen Valley junior Rebecca Terry, but she has shown her skill in becoming a bit of a terror as Veruca. Acting in her first stage role, Rebecca shared that coming into the production she had rather low expectations for her performance but has been excited to grow and expand her talents to provide a fun portrayal. She hopes everyone enjoys the show. Just don’t call her Veronica.

The entire cast has enjoyed watching the effervescent Moses Napier, a 17 year old OV junior, shine as Mike Teavee the screen addicted kid that can’t seem to find any pleasure in anything not on TV. Moses has been in the OCCT productions of “The Little Prince” and “The Outsiders” previously. He jumped at the chance to be in “Wonka” because he’s always loved the story and wanted to be a part of it. He loves the pop culture references in the set design and hopes to eventually fulfill his dream to become an actor.

Gum chewing expert Violet Beauregarde is played by Amelia Huening, a 13 year old student at Seven Oaks Classical School. Amelia is a young stage veteran with seven performances to her credit. This is her fourth role in a musical. “Musicals are strenuous but fun,” she explained, “and this is the most extravagant production I’ve been involved with. I love enjoying the other cast members talents.” Amelia took up singing because when she was very young a classmate said she couldn’t sing. “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something,” she offered.

And our Charlie Bucket is portrayed by Itzel Young, 15, a Spencer resident and incoming sophomore at the Academy of Science and Entrepreneurship in Bloomington. “It’s really fun to do plays and musicals,” Itzel offered. This is her second production, first musical, and first lead role. “I was surprised I could memorize all the lines,” she added. And it’s a good thing because she has a lot of them. Itzel really likes the big musical numbers, especially the all cast song at the end of the first act.

The young actors in the cast and the musicians in the orchestra are fortunate to live in a community that can support the arts and a group like the OCCT. In this musical drama, they benefit from the caring guidance of Landon and Jessica. In talking to our co-directors and watching them work, I see two incredibly hard working, creative, and talented people who share a passion for teaching young people. As Landon said as we chatted, “I want to get people to be fearless.”

Jessica has been very pleased with how the production helps fulfill her purpose. “I want to impact children’s lives,” she said. “Come make believe with us. We’re imagining this story for you. Come join us.”

Finally, ten year old Parker Curtis, one of our darling Oompa Loompas, is just hoping to make people laugh and share music so people will be happy. Her wish for the production, “Hope we have a big crowd and lots of applause.”

Me, too.

Online tickets at $10 each are still available online at https://owen-county-civic-theatre-company-inc.square.site  or at the door for $12. The performances at the Owen Valley High School auditorium are at 7 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Your Owen County Community Foundation is committed to helping our communities become better places to live, grow, and work. We value our children and want to help them succeed and be safe.

If you would like to know more about how you can work with your local OCCF to support the arts in Owen County, give me a call at 812-829-1725, email me at mark@owencountycf.org, visit us online at www.owencountycf.org, or stop by our office at 60 E. Market Street in Spencer.

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