Wheelock’s ‘imagineers’ bring Wonka World to life

Jamie Leslie as Charlie Bucket performs “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” in Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka.” Photo: Nile Scott Studios

BOSTON – As the sweetest holiday of them all – Halloween – approaches, there’s a scrumptious theatrical delight waiting for you at the Wheelock Family Theatre.  

“Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka” is a charming, tuneful show for all ages

Adapted for the stage by Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald based on Roald Dahl’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” it’s the story of mysterious candy factory owner Willy Wonka, who has shut off his business from the outside world for many years, but has now hidden five Golden Tickets inside chocolate bars that entitle the lucky holder to both a tour of the factory and a lifetime of chocolate.

There’s a lot to like in the staging by director Emily Ranii, the costumes by Chelsea Kerl. And delicious touches and charming movement by nonpareil choreographer Russell Garrett,

Dahl had his dark side, of course, and there is black comedy afoot in works such as this one and his “Matilda.”  Here, it comes in the ways Wonka deals with shrill, gluttonous, selfish young ticket-holders who violate the rules during the tour of his factory, with hilarious results thanks to some ingenious stagecraft from the show’s design team.  

As Willy Wonka, Richard “Ricky” Holquin performs a lovely, wistful take on the show’s signature tune, “Pure Imagination.” Holquin’s Willy is mystical and fun-loving, but also with his aforementioned dark side.

Michael Mansour, Lisa Kate Joyce and Gary Thomas Ng in “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka.” Photo: Nile Scott Studios

The factory tour has been set up to find out which of the children would serve as a worthy successor to Wonka, who plans to retire and hand over his kingdom to that one deserving child.

Dirt-poor Charlie Bucket, who has a good heart and not much else, is winningly performed by Jamie Leslie, a poised young actor and skilled singer, who shines when he sings “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket.”

 “Wonka” benefits from the individual portraits of the characters, and a wonderful cast, some of whom boast comedic chops that are second to none in the Greater Boston theatrical  community.

Neil A. Casey is Grandpa Joe Bucket, who once worked for Wonka, who arises from his years-long slumber to join Charlie on his great adventure.

Also in that same bed are Gary Thomas Ng, who plays the very deaf Grandpa Joe, as well as hyper TV host Phineas Trout.

Joining them in the bed is Carolyn Saxon as Grandma Georgina, and later as Mrs. Beauregarde, the baton champion mother of ticket-holder Violet Beauregarde (Lily Park), the gum-chewing champ whose fondness for the activity eventually costs her dearly.

Also in that very crowded bed is Lisa Yuen as Grandma Josephine, while also playing Ms. TeaVea, the mother of the video-addicted ticket-holder Mike TeaVea, winningly performed by Leo Ruckenstein.  

And then there is Matthew Zahnzinger, performing in a wheelchair courtesy of two injured feat, still seamlessly inhabiting two roles: Mr. Bucket, Charlie’s decent but hapless father whose job tightening toothpaste tubes has been sent overseas, and  Mr. Salt, the wealthy father of the obnoxious, selfish, spoiled ticket-holder Veruca Salt (a delightful Carly Williams).

Lisa Kate Joyce also does double duty as the loyal Mrs. Bucket, as well as a hilarious turn as the German mother of ticket-holder Augustus Gloop (Michael Mansour), who together are the gluttonous Gloops.

Members of the Wheelock Youth Ensemble are Oompa Loompas, outfitted in matching striped outfits who provide song, dance and comic relief as they announce “Golden Ticket” updates from BBC International News.

The songwriting team of the late Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse have never gotten the recognition they deserved, and they were nominated for an Oscar for their score of the film version of the story. Sammy Davis Jr. had to be dragged kicking and screaming to record “Candy Man,” which became a No. 1 hit, and here is a charming production number.

Director Ranii has cast well, and coated the entire production with her own sweet hand, emphasizing the many positive qualities of Charlie and the Bucket family and tamping down the darker aspects of Dahl’s story.

The production values are sublime. Costume designer Kerl knocked herself out dressing  Dahl’s eclectic characters, including the identical striped outfits for the charming and talented Oompa Loompas, and their several encores, and she works in concert with Matt Robson’s lighting, Brendan F. Doyle’s sound, props and puppets by Sam Tompkins Martin and Nathan Urdangen’s music direction.

And unless your budget for recreating Wonka’s factory runs into the millions of dollars, as it did for the film version of “Willy Wonka,” the words of this show’s scenic designer. Jimmy Rotondo. best describe this stage adaptation.  “To a child, a cardboard box can be a rocket ship to the moon, or even a great glass elevator, with the tiniest dose of ‘pure imagination.’”

The Wheelock Family Theatre at Boston University production of “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka.” Music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. Adapted for the stage by Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen Mcdonald. Based on the book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl. Directed by Emily Ranii. Choreographed by Russell Garrett. At the Wheelock Family Theatre through Nov. 17. Wheelockfamilytheatre.org.

Gary Thomas Ng, Matthew Zahnzinger and Carly Williams in “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka.” Photo: Nile Scott Studios