Whidbey Playhouse takes audiences through many decades with characters and costumes during its rendition of “Willy Wonka” on stage through June 24. Photos by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group

Whidbey Playhouse takes audiences through many decades with characters and costumes during its rendition of “Willy Wonka” on stage through June 24. Photos by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group

Playhouse delivers sweet family treat with ‘Willy Wonka’

‘How can you not leave smiling?’

Expect to have a sugar craving after taking in the latest play at Whidbey Playhouse.

Its production of “Willy Wonka,” on stage until June 24, sticks true to the tale of chocolate rivers, lickable wallpaper and wondrous gum with great aplomb and fantastical fun.

All the whacky Wonka reliables — his Oompa Loompa workers, nut-inspecting squirrels and oddly-named characters — shine during the two-hour musical.

Time also travels. Decades leap from world wars to Star Wars.

As new characters are introduced, so are fashions, patterns of speech and societal shifts.

“The clothing doesn’t match each other on purpose,” explained producer Selene Muldowney. “It appeals to different ages. That was the goal to bring it together through time.”

Working with a cast of 37, ranging in age from second graders to senior citizens, directors Rusty Hendrix and Eric George successfully pull off pulling the audience into a land of make believe.

Leading the way into a world of sweet imagination and scrumdidilyumptiousness is actor Andrew Huggins.

With just the right amount of wit and weariness of badly-behaved children, Huggins seems tailor-made for the role of Willy Wonka. And not just because of the trademark top hat, purple coat and green pants.

Although he’s appeared in several recent Playhouse productions, Huggins said it’s not a role he even thought about pursuing.

But others saw him as the perfect fit.

“He was our pick,” said director Eric George. “We told him he has to audition.”

“Once I got cast,” admitted Huggins, “I knew I loved the role. It’s probably been the most rewarding role I’ve had.”

The play is based on the children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl, published in 1964. As the movie “Willy Wonka” starring Gene Wilder, it wasn’t an immediate hit upon its 1971 release. But it has morphed into an iconic movie for the ages.

“It’s a magical story,” said Brynn Schmid, 13, who delightfully plays Violet Beauregarde. “It’s somewhat relateable for all because it’s about how kids will be kids.”

Colorful, clever, sweet and sassy, the story follows five children from around the world as they each find a “golden ticket” inside chocolate Wonka Bars. The prize entitles them to a tour of the mysterious Wonka candy factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate.

The tale also highlights the life of Charlie Bucket, a poor boy who lives near the Wonka factory. His grandfather Joe regales him with stories about working at the plant long ago while his father babbles on about being the best toothpaste cap turner at his factory.

Young Charlie is played by 12-year-old Maggie Garrett who’s been learning the craft of acting the past four seasons at the children’s theater program, Would-be-Players. Lots of practice with her mother, Amy Garrett, who plays the character Ms. Teavee, helped, Maggie said.

“And I thought positive,” she added, using her stage family’s mantra.

Maggie and Amy Garrett are just one of numerous pairings of mother and daughter, father and daughter, mother, father and son and siblings acting on stage together.

“It happened that when the kids auditioned, their parents decided too, also,” Muldowney said. “It turned out to be a real community effort.”

While teenage characters in the Wonka story tend to be more sour than sweet, the actual young actors turned out to be a well-behaved bunch, Muldowney said.

“This is the first time we’ve had a kid cast who all get along,” she proclaimed. “That’s not always the case, believe me.”

Kathy Garvey watched intently on preview night from the first row, keeping a sharp eye on three wee performers all dressed in lavender-colored wigs, white knickers and checkered knee socks.

Three of her grandchildren, twins Leo and Josie and big brother Max Gammache, comprised almost half of the Oompa Loompas.

With another young granddaughter sitting on her lap, Garvey explained she was called in from Florida to Whidbey Island for grandmother duty.

“I’m here for five weeks for the change of command of their mom and dad,” she said. “This one has been to every rehearsal,” Garvey said of the three-year-old with her. “I’m surprised she sat through it tonight.”

And what was grandmother’s review?

“It was adorable,” she said. “How can you not leave smiling?”

• “Willy Wonka” onstage at 7:30 p.m. every Thursday-Saturday and 2:30 Sunday until June 24 at Whidbey Playhouse, 730 SE Midway Blvd., Oak Harbor. Tickets: $20 adults, $18 students. www.whidbeyplayhouse.com

Oompa Loompas steal the show singing and dancing throughout the two-hour play, “Willy Wonka.” Photos by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group

Oompa Loompas steal the show singing and dancing throughout the two-hour play, “Willy Wonka.” Photos by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News Group

Mrs. and Mr. Bucket (Emily Nix and David Jackson) look on as Charlie Bucket (Maggie Garrett) opens up a candy bar looking for the golden ticket for a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Mrs. and Mr. Bucket (Emily Nix and David Jackson) look on as Charlie Bucket (Maggie Garrett) opens up a candy bar looking for the golden ticket for a tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

Playing Charlie Bucket in “Willy Wonka,” 12-year-old Maggie Garrett goes through a range of emotions during her first starring role. She’s been learning acting skills for four years with Would-be-Players.

Playing Charlie Bucket in “Willy Wonka,” 12-year-old Maggie Garrett goes through a range of emotions during her first starring role. She’s been learning acting skills for four years with Would-be-Players.

Maggie Garrett (left) and Andrew Huggins play lead roles in the presentation of “Willy Wonka” at Whidbey Playhouse June 1-24.

Maggie Garrett (left) and Andrew Huggins play lead roles in the presentation of “Willy Wonka” at Whidbey Playhouse June 1-24.

Backstage at Whidbey Playhouse, some of the cast joke around between acts during preview night of “Willy Wonka.” Left to right are Ameerah Melendrez, Brynn Schmid, Sarah Meyer, Myah Corella and Maggie Garrett.

Backstage at Whidbey Playhouse, some of the cast joke around between acts during preview night of “Willy Wonka.” Left to right are Ameerah Melendrez, Brynn Schmid, Sarah Meyer, Myah Corella and Maggie Garrett.

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