Stage to the right of Erin Stoneking
Raised as the daughter of Geri McShane, a popular parishioner and author of the Albert Lea Tribune, I was exposed to our community theater at a young age. I remember taking her to rehearsals for shows that she wrote stories about. That’s why I’ve always liked theatre, especially our little community theatre. In the last few weeks, I lost my aunt, my mother’s sister, Colleen, to brain cancer. This loss was especially hard as Colleen reminded me so much of my mother. When I was asked to attend a rehearsal to review the play, I was thrilled and knew it would be a great way to honor her memories.
I remember watching the original 1971 version of the Gene Wilder movie Willy Wonka as a kid. I loved the film and can say it was one of my favorites. In 2005, the Johnny Depp version of the film was released. I liked the film a lot, but it couldn’t be compared to the original version. Having seen both films, I was curious to see how the Albert Lea Community Theater (ACT) would portray the show. Director Gordy Handeland and his cast and crew did a phenomenal job combining the original story with the modern. Barb Lang directed the musical aspect of the show and the pit orchestra gave a great performance.
The show lasts about two hours with a 10-minute intermission. It begins with Andrew Anderson (Willy Wonka) singing the classic “Pure Imagination.” A popular returning actor at the community theater, Anderson has a great voice and is perfectly costumed as Wonka. Charlie Bucket is played by Alejandro Vasquez Perez, a young actor making his debut on the ACT stage. Vasquez Perez excels in his role as Bucket. He has an amazing voice for his age and shows great confidence on stage. On the song “Think Positive,” Vasquez Perez was full of pure, authentic excitement.
Willy Wonka is filled with actors familiar with the ACT stage, including Aaron McVicker. McVicker is cast as Phineous Trout, the local news reporter. McVicker brings his comedic personality to the stage while maintaining his role very well. Steve Stoneking is also a well known face of community theater and is cast as Grandpa Joe. The set design for the “Flying” scene was creatively designed to allow Vasquez Perez and Stoneking to “fly” and sing at the same time while making the audience laugh. Stoneking, Anderson and Vasquez Perez made an excellent trio as the lead actors on the show, especially on one of the final songs “Flying” (Reprise) as their voices brought perfect harmony to the scene.
The commitment of the young people in our community theater always impresses me. From what I understand there was a tremendous number of kids trying their hand at the show. Those who were cast did a great job, especially those cast as Oompa-Loompas. The costumes of the Oompa-Loompas were well done and matched what was done in the original film. Each child in the Oompa-Loompa ensemble was also intimately familiar with his songs, lines and choreography. Hats off to these kids for having the courage to try and perform on this show.
I look forward to attending the show again with my family next weekend and I encourage the rest of the community to attend a show as well. “Willy Wonka” should not be missing on the stage of the Bürgertheater.
Erin Stoneking is from Albert Lea and lives in the city with her family. She is a registered nurse and student. Outside of work and school, she enjoys reading, spending time with her dogs, kayaking, and playing golf.