If it's any indication of how popular “Willy Wonka” is, 175 people tried out for a part in the show, which is a collaboration between Fort Wayne Youtheatre and the University of Saint Francis.
The show will feature 74 Oompa Loompas and 22 other actors with speaking parts, said Leslie Hormann, Youtheatre's executive and artistic director. “It's the worst part,” she said, referring to making cuts.
The musical opens Friday and runs the next two weekends at Saint Francis' Performing Arts Center, 431 W. Berry St. (formerly the Scottish Rite).
Hormann attributes the huge tryout turnout to the popularity of the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” starring Gene Wilder. A remake in 2005, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” starred Johnny Depp.
The movies and play are based on the book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” written by Roald Dahl and released in 1964. This is the 50th anniversary of the story about a reclusive candy maker, Willy Wonka, who is seeking an heir. Five lucky children are given a tour of his factory to see his candy-making secrets — if they can find a “Golden Ticket” in a Wonka candy bar. One child will win a lifetime supply of his chocolate. Charlie Bucket, a kindhearted but poor boy, and four other bratty kids get to take the tour, where they're introduced to Oompa Loompas and more.
She believes the show is so popular because the children are so ornery in the story — they're kind of the villains — and at the end the brats get their comeuppance and the underdog wins. She said its sort of a wealth vs. poverty story and speaks to consumerism. And Dahl even makes reference to how much TV kids watch today. Hormann wondered aloud what he'd think of today's plugged-in kids.
With so many people trying out, Hormann is using two casts, one each weekend.
“Every kid wants to be one of those bratty kids or an Oompa Loompa,” she said. With 74 Oompa Loompas in the show, there are a lot of children, and it becomes a trafficking issue, she said. “It's like having a marching band onstage.” She calls herself the assistant director and “Oompa Loompa corraler.” Brad Beauchamp is the primary director, she said.
With the costumes, wigs and elaborate sets it's an expensive show to produce. “We couldn't do the show if we didn't partner with another group,” Hormann said. The royalties for the play were expensive, too. Saint Francis is taking care of the facility costs, and the school's visual arts department is working on set pieces.
Parker Irwin, a fifth-grader at Weisser Park Elementary School, plays the role of Charlie. He previously played Oliver in the Wagon Wheel Theatre (Warsaw) production of “Oliver!.”
“He came in and we're like, yep. That's Charlie,” Hormann said. “He's so sweet and he hit every note. He has a beautiful singing voice, freckled face, cute disposition.”