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Willy Wonka brings his quirky magic to Sutter Street Theatre
By: Gerry Camp

Willy Wonka at Sutter Street Theatre in Folsom, CARoald Dahl’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” has become a children’s classic since its publication over fifty years ago. It has been made into a movie twice, first in 1971 with Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka and in 2005 with Johnny Depp in the part. Sutter Street Theatre brings the 1971 version with music by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley to Folsom, shortening the title to “Willy Wonka.”

Most adults probably know the story about magical chocolate maker Wonka, whose factory has been closed to the public for ten years while still somehow producing the world’s most famous candy, and how he sponsors a contest to allow five children, each with a parent, to tour his factory. The children are selected by finding a golden ticket in one of his chocolate bars.

The first act introduces the children who find the golden tickets. Augustus Gloop (Benjamin Matta) is a glutton who can’t stop eating. Veruca Salt (Jenna Lunday) is a spoiled brat who demands that her daddy (Jay Evans) buy her everything she wants—instantly. Violet Beauregard (Izzy Weaver) is the world gum-chewing champion, and Mike Teavee (Trace Lundrum) is addicted to television. It would be difficult to imagine four more obnoxious children, and all are acted effectively with all their grotesque behavior made clear and supported by their equally grotesque enabling parents. The standout among these monsters is Jenna Lunday’s Veruca, who easily earns the dislike of the audience.

The exception to the horrific depiction of children in this story is Charlie Bucket, played brilliantly by Jonathan Matta. Charlie comes from a family so poor his four grandparents have been sharing the only bed in the house for seventeen years and all they ever eat is cabbage soup. But Charlie is an honest boy who cares for his family, especially his doting Grandpa Joe (Mark Joyner). Charlie’s duet with Grandpa Joe, “Think Positive,” is a delightfully performed answer to the bad behavior of everyone else and a musical highlight.

The second act has Willy Wonka leading the tour of the chocolate factory during which the behavior of each of the four awful children causes them to be sucked into Wonka’s factory’s processes and transformed in various ways. Charlie is not transformed but is almost dismissed by Wonka for disobeying an order. But Charlie is okay in the end and wins the grand prize.

Even if most of the characters are unpleasant and suffer for their behavior, the show is quite entertaining. The music is delightful, Willy Wonka is played by Sutter Street newcomer Derek Byrnes, standing a foot taller than anyone else. Byrnes plays the elusive character convincingly, and the wonderful Charlie of Jonathan Matta is delightful throughout. This is one of Sutter Street’s huge musicals, with a cast of thirty, and director Mike Jimena and choreographer Dian Hoel (who also plays Mrs. Teavee) insure an afternoon of delightful music and dance.