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Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011

Waukesha Civic Theatre's Magical 'Willy Wonka'

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Waukesha Civic Theatre's Willy Wonka is a charming musical retelling of the beloved children's story with which so many of us grew up. Incorporating songs from both film adaptations and much dialogue directly from the book, the production transports its audience straight into the “world of pure imagination.”

Wonka
's opening-night audience received the production with delight over drinks and delicious thematic sweets. The family-friendly show charmed viewers of all ages, with every number prompting enthusiastic cheers and applause. Particularly memorable are the perfectly costumed Oompa-Loompa line dances, admonishing us against childhood transgressions such as selfishness and gluttony. Each of these numbers had the audience in stitches.

The production, which runs until Aug. 14, is visually impressive, with numerous and detailed set pieces and attractive period costumes. Charlie's house is a single-room affair with leaning walls and a single large bed that all four grandparents share, to hilarious effect. Wonka's factory, on the other hand, effectively creates the illusion of vastness with a series of clever sets illustrating every room that the five lucky golden ticket recipients visit on their tour with the “Candy Man.” In an especially amusing scene, Charlie and Grandpa Joe are “levitated” in a profusion of bubbles, under the influence of Fizzy Lifting Drink. At another time, Violet Beauregarde is transformed into a giant blueberry through the magic of an ingeniously rigged inflatable dress.

Wonka's own costume and appearance could convince us that he is Gene Wilder's twin, and Paul Burkard's performance seals the deal. Flippant, eccentric and even a tad maniacal, Burkard's Wonka ties the show together. Jacob Badovski, as Charlie, is a sweet, energetic protagonist, and Rich Labinski's Grandpa Joe provides all the common sense, optimism and love the show could ever need to bring Roald Dahl's enchanting story to life.