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‘Willy Wonka’ opens three-weekend run Friday

  • Photo by JEFFREY NORTH WILSON Bridge Hartman will bring the character of Willy Wonka
    to life in the Hilo Community Players upcoming run of "Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka."
  • Photo by JEFFREY NORTH WILSON The "Oompa-Loompas" found in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory are eight brightly colored "assistants" to the candy maker and are willing to indulge in a bit of mischief. They're pictured here with Slyla Lee as Mrs. Salt and Michael Stevens as Mr. Salt.
  • Photo by JEFFREY NORTH WILSON A number of local children will take the stage in the Hilo Community Players upcoming performance of "Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka."

Theater-goers can grab their golden ticket and enter a world of pure imagination when the Palace Theater and Hilo Community Players present “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka,” which begins a three-weekend run tomorrow.

Performances are set for Oct. 5-7, 12-14 and 19-21 at the Palace Theater, located at 38 Haili St. in Hilo. Friday and Saturday shows will be at 7 p.m. and Sunday matinees will be at 2:30 p.m.

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The musical tells the story of world-famous candy man Willy Wonka, looking for an heir to his candied kingdom.

He has hidden five golden tickets in chocolate bars around the world, the finders of which win a tour of the factory in the hopes of becoming Wonka’s successor.

The musical is based on Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which was published in 1964, and the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” starring Gene Wilder as the titular and eccentric Willy Wonka.

Director Rachel Klein said the upcoming stage version closely follows the 1971 movie.

The audience will follow each of the five children through Wonka’s factory and learn from their mistakes along the way, she said.

“There’s, of course, one child left at the end,” said Klein. “The idea is to find the most deserving child to be the next person to run this wonderful candy factory.”

For those who attend, Klein said the play is “just a good time.”

“It’s so magical, there’s so many fanciful things that happen because once they enter the chocolate factory, they enter this world where everything is edible and sweet and delicious, and there are magic gums that taste like an entire three-course dinner and there are magic drinks that make people float in the air,” she said. “… It’s such a magical place and really gives you the opportunity to imagine some really wonderful things.”

According to Klein, the theater group has never performed “Willy Wonka” before.

“It has been done on the island before, but we decided to do it mainly because we were looking for a show that was for families and that people could enjoy bringing their kids to,” she said. “But also, this particular show is a wonderful show because we were able to incorporate a lot of children in the show. There’s a lot of parts for kids and young people, and we always try to incorporate youths in shows while we can. So this show is wonderful for that.”

There are about 40 performers in the show, Klein said, at least a quarter of which are children under 18.

Cast members, though, range from the age of 6 to around 85, she said, “So that’s a lot of fun, and getting to see them work together and help each other is neat. Sometimes the little kids are helping the older folks and sometimes the older folks are helping the little kids out. It’s been a really good experience.”

It’s college student Bridge Hartman who will lead the cast as Willy Wonka.

“He’s really a fabulous actor and fantastic vocalist, and he just really seemed to have the skill set to bring the character to life, so we really felt like he was the right pick,” Klein said.

Also in the cast are Reece Naukana-Christensen as Charlie Bucket, David Penhallow-Scott as Grandpa Joe and Norman Arancon as the Candy Man.

Palace Theater Executive Director Robin Worley said this will be the 17th musical the Palace has presented to the community, and the fourth such production with Hilo Community Players.

“All I can say from the peeks I’ve gotten is their voices are golden and the sets are fantastic,” she said. “We’re anticipating this is going to be a really, really fun event for all ages.”

Worley said the Palace likes to make sure they have a play that is “attractive to kids, not just to star in, but to come to, periodically.”

But “Willy Wonka” isn’t just for children, she said.

“It speaks (about) a lot of our behavior and consequences to our behavior — that doing the right thing will be rewarded in the end,” said Worley.

Klein shared those sentiments and said families should come “and bring kids” because the play has “a really good moral, too.”

“As we see all the kids in the factory, we learn from each of their mistakes and find that the child who is nice and well-behaved and follows the rules and is kind and caring about other people is the one who makes it all the way through the factory,” she said.

It’s something people living in Hawaii can identify with, too, said Klein, “because we talk about ‘living pono’ and doing things the right way, being a good person and following through with living well, and that is exactly what this play is about. It’s about believing that good things will happen and living your life in a good way. … When the character does that in this story, he is rewarded.”

Tickets for “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka”are on sale at the Palace Theater box office from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays or by calling 934-7010.

Costs are $20 for general seating, $25 for side and $30 for center reserved. Tickets will be $5 more the day of the performance.

The Palace Theater has also hidden five pairs of tickets to the show in “Wonka Bars” that will be on sale at the box office and theater cafe for a $5 donation.

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Visit hiloplayers.org or hilopalace.com for more information.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com