Actor Gene Wilder made the role famous in 1971, introducing movie-goers to Willy Wonka and his fantastical chocolate factory. The character of Willy Wonka, as well as his magically sweet kingdom, was recreated 34 years later by another actor, Johnny Depp, in the 2005 film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Fast-forward another 14 years, and some 60 students in the McKinleyville Union School District’s McKinleyville Performing Arts program are reviving the beloved musical yet again with their production of “Willy Wonka Jr.,” based on the award-winning book by Roald Dahl.
McKinleyville Performing Arts — which has been putting on spring plays for about 15 years — is made up of fourth- to eighth-graders from Morris Elementary and McKinleyville Middle schools who are interested in theater. The group’s past plays have included “Shrek Jr.,” “Into the Woods,” “Lion King Jr.” and others.
Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, Mike Teavee, the Oompa-Loompas and others will take the local stage on April 11 and 12 at 7 p.m. at McKinleyville High School, 1300 Murray Road.
The McKinleyville Performing Arts presentation will be double cast. On April 11, Cayden Bluwe, 13, will star as Willy Wonka and Doc Price, 10, as Charlie Bucket. On April 12, Gino Gonzalez, 13, plays Willy Wonka and Sajien Olson, 12, will be Charlie Bucket. Most of the other main roles are also being double cast to highlight the many talented students in McKinleyville.
The show features lyrics and music by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, including the popular songs “The Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination” from the original 1970’s movie, which was titled “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” “Willy Wonka Jr.” has been adapted for the stage by Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald. For the local show, the musical director is Angela Burkhart.
“I chose ‘Willy Wonka Jr.,’ because I was very familiar with the movie and also the book. It was a favorite of all eight of my children,” said the show’s director, Kathy Hardy of Fortuna.
“When my oldest son, David, who had cystic fibrosis (CF), was in elementary school, he would sometimes wake up in the night not being able to breathe. I would set up his nebulizer for a breathing treatment … and he would go get his favorite book for me to read to him — ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.’ David grew to be 26 years old and passed away three years ago on April 11, our opening night.
“The students of McKinleyville Performing Arts have graciously and thoughtfully agreed to dedicate their performances in memory and honor of David, a little boy like them, who loves candy and the story of inheriting a chocolate factory,” Hardy said.
As a stage play, she noted, “Willy Wonka Jr.” has been changed a bit from its visually rich movie counterparts.
“(Since) it is written for young children to perform, many of the special effects cannot be done, such as Augustus Gloop being sucked up the tube after falling in the chocolate river, Charlie and Grandpa Joe flying after drinking the Fizzy Lifting Drink or Mike Teavee shrinking down into a television. We have to be creative to bring the story to life. It is also shorter than the movie, only one hour,” Hardy said.
Assisting Hardy in directing the McKinleyville show is her daughter, McKenna Hardy, 26, who is serving as assistant director and stage manager.
“McKenna and another of my sons, TJ, also have CF,” Kathy Hardy said. “In fact, McKenna is supposed to be in the hospital right now because she has a lung exacerbation and needs I.V. antibiotics as well as intensive respiratory therapy. But as we say in show business, ‘The show must go on!’ So, she opted to be hooked up to home I.V.s in her port-a-cath that is implanted in her chest, receiving strong antibiotics 24/7. … When the show is over, she will be reevaluated at UCSF and may be hospitalized at that time.”
Scarlett Robinson, 14, is serving alongside Kathy Hardy as assistant stage manager for “Willy Wonka Jr.”
“A lot of my friends are in this (show) and we get to meet a lot of new people,” said Robinson, who attends McKinleyville Middle School.
Though this is both Kathy and McKenna Hardy’s first time directing a performance, neither is new to the theater scene. They have performed for more than 12 years in over 20 stage musicals and have also worked in the Los Angeles area.
“While living in Modesto, McKenna and I also drove down to Hollywood two to three times per week … to audition and film commercials, television show, movies, music videos and student films,” said Kathy Hardy.
McKenna Hardy has also worked behind the scenes in various productions doing crew work, costuming and set building. Most recently, she served as assistant stage manager in two shows at Ferndale Repertory Theatre: “A Christmas Story” and “Taking Steps.”
“What is most fun about this experience is working together with my daughter and watching the show come together,” said Kathy Hardy. “… McKenna is really keeping us organized during ‘Willy Wonka Jr.’ rehearsals as my assistant as well as at home as my right hand man, and I couldn’t do my job as director without her.”
The Hardy family moved to Fortuna about three years ago from Modesto, where they were part of Modesto Performing Arts under the directorship of Paul Tischer. All of Kathy Hardy’s children have performed in musicals as well as in musical groups over the years. Kathy Hardy is also a teacher’s aide in a first-grade class in Fortuna and a caregiver with Visiting Angels. She’s published two books, “Comfort-Inspirations for Parents for Chronically Ill Children” and “So Long,” and has written three children’s books for kids at the school where she works.
Tickets for “Willy Wonka Jr.” are $10 for adults and $5 for children and can be purchased from cast members, at the district office (2275 Central Ave.) or at the door. For more information, call Melody at 707-839-1549.