Spotlight Youth Theatre’s “Willy Wonka Jr.” brings the magic

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Foster Hilding stars as Willy Wonka in Spotlight Youth Theatre's "Willy Wonka Jr."
Foster Hilding stars as Willy Wonka in Spotlight Youth Theatre’s production of “Willy Wonka Jr.” Photos by Kelly Swope, courtesy of Spotlight Youth Theatre.

How does a free tour of a chocolate factory and a lifetime supply of candy sound?

Pretty good to Charlie Bucket, one of five winners of factory owner Willy Wonka’s contest in “Willy Wonka Jr.,” coming to Spotlight Youth Theatre Sept. 2–18.

In this magical adventure filled with song and dance, Charlie, a likeable young man, tours the mysterious chocolate factory with his equally agreeable grandfather, Grandpa Joe, and his not-so-agreeable fellow winners.

“Our toughest question before we design a setting for a fantasy story that’s so well known and beloved is, ‘How do we get the magic onstage?’” says set designer Bobby Sample. He notes that he has “tried to draw out some natural wonder with a huge tone difference between the drab world of Charlie’s home and the technicolor dreamland of Willy Wonka — a lot like Kansas versus Oz.”

In addition, Sample says, “The brilliant light design by Josh Hontz equally works wonders to nail this goal.” Hontz also handles sound.

But there’s another important element when it comes to magic.

Evan Culbertson as Grandpa Joe, Corban Adams as Charlie Bucket and Foster Hilding as chocolate factory owner Willy Wonka in “Willy Wonka Jr.” at Spotlight Youth Theatre Sept. 2–18.
Evan Culbertson as Grandpa Joe, Corban Adams as Charlie Bucket and Foster Hilding as chocolate factory owner Willy Wonka in “Willy Wonka Jr.” at Spotlight Youth Theatre Sept. 2–18.

“Of course, most of the magic comes from the actors, who make it believable in person, in a way you can’t get from a film,” he says.

Some of those actors are Corban Adams, playing Charlie Bucket, Foster Hilding as Willy Wonka and Evan Culbertson in the role of Grandpa Joe.

Corban is a 10-year-old honor student in the fifth grade at Cactus View Elementary School in Paradise Valley who spent a year singing with the Phoenix Children’s Chorus. Foster, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at the Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics, is well-known to SYT audiences. He has appeared as the D.A. for the prosecution in “Fairy Tale Courtroom,” Leroy in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” Ringo in “Cinderella: A Rock-n-Roll Fairytale” and the Mad Hatter in Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland Jr.”

An eighth-grader at Heritage Elementary School in Peoria, 13-year-old Evan caught the acting bug when he participated in one of Spotlight’s summer camps. He has since been in a number of productions, playing Charlie Bradley in “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” Prince Charming in “Fairy Tale Courtroom,” and most recently the royal adviser in “Cinderella: A Rock-n-Roll Fairytale.”

Further contributing to the show’s magic are director Kenny Grossman, musical director Heather Walker and choreographer Madison McDonald. Spencer Claus, who recently appeared as Danny Zuko in Valley Youth Theatre’s “Grease,” is in charge of hair and makeup.

The play choice is timely. Actor Gene Wilder, who passed away Aug. 29, starred in the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” adapted from Roald Dahl’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” “Willy Wonka Jr.” is the kid-friendly version of Dahl’s story, and SYT recommends it especially for ages 8–18.

But when it comes to magic, is anybody ever too old?

Coast members of “Willy Wonka Jr,” at Spotlight Youth Theatre Sept. 2–18.
Coast members of “Willy Wonka Jr.” onstage at Spotlight Youth Theatre in Peoria Sept. 2–18.

IF YOU GO: Sept. 2-18, 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Additional 2 p.m. shows on Saturday, Sept. 10 and Sept. 17. $12. Spotlight Youth Theatre, 10620 N. 43rd Ave., Glendale. 602-843-8318 or spotlightyouththeatre.org.

 

 

 

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