See a world of pure imagination in ‘Willy Wonka Jr’

Minnetonka Middle School East’s production of “Willy Wonka Jr.” will be March 16-18. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Paige Kieffer) Center, Tessa Lundheim (Veruca Salt) and George Lindberg (Mr. Salt) with squirrels in Minnetonka Middle School East’s production of “Willy Wonka Jr.” (Sun Sailor staff photo by Paige Kieffer)
<
>
Center, Tessa Lundheim (Veruca Salt) and George Lindberg (Mr. Salt) with squirrels in Minnetonka Middle School East’s production of “Willy Wonka Jr.” (Sun Sailor staff photo by Paige Kieffer)

Minnetonka Middle School East staging show March 16-18

Community members can enter a world of pure imagination March 16-18 at Minnetonka Middle School East’s production of “Willy Wonka Jr.”

Roald Dahl’s musical follows the enigmatic candy manufacturer Willy Wonka (Truman Klein) as he stages a contest by hiding golden tickets in five of his scrumptious candy bars. Whoever comes up with these tickets will win a free tour of the Wonka factory, as well as a lifetime supply of chocolate.

Four of the five winning children are insufferable brats, but the fifth is a likable young lad named Charlie Bucket (Jason Kizilos), who takes the tour in the company of his equally amiable grandfather (Gabriel Smerillo). The children must learn to follow Mr. Wonka’s rules in the factory, or suffer the consequences.

Left to right, Jason Kizilos (Charlie Bucket), Truman Klein (Willy Wonka) and Gabriel Smerillo (Grandpa) in Minnetonka Middle School East’s production of “Willy Wonka Jr.” (Sun Sailor staff photo by Paige Kieffer)
Left to right, Jason Kizilos (Charlie Bucket), Truman Klein (Willy Wonka) and Gabriel Smerillo (Grandpa) in Minnetonka Middle School East’s production of “Willy Wonka Jr.” (Sun Sailor staff photo by Paige Kieffer)

The junior version is a shorter and more condensed version of the original story. The musical is filled with many of the same songs from the original movie like “Pure Imagination,” “The Candyman,” “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” and “Oompa Loompa.” The school’s musical production features more than 80 cast and 35 crew members. As many students as possible are invited to participate in the production.

“In general, theater creates an opportunity for kids to problem solve and to accept themselves and find a community that’s accepting,” said Production Manager Amy Jore. “In middle school, kids are going through the most changes of their adolescent and it gives them a community to belong to and a good place to express themselves. As the staff, it’s really amazing to see that. Overall it’s a really great opportunity for the kids and I feel blessed that these kids are in a district that supports the arts.”

Director Liz McAlister said, “It’s amazing watching the kids grow through this whole process and seeing the friendships they make and how they challenge themselves.”
McAlister said participating in middle school productions prepares students for the high school program.

Klein, who plays Willy Wonka, has participated in a number of middle school and high school productions.

“ What I love most about theater is the social aspect of it,” he said. “I feel really prepared for high school productions because I’ve met a lot of people there and I know I’ll have friends there.”
Previously, the school staged “Mulan Jr.,” “Music Man Jr.,” and “Guys and Dolls Jr.”

Jore said the students have really enjoyed participating in “Willy Wonka Jr.”

“Anytime kids know the show it’s a lot more interesting and exciting for them and they are a lot more engaged,” she said.

Many of the cast members said they re-watched the 1971 film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and the 2005 film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

“I re-watched the movies when I got the role and saw how Gene Wilder and Johnny Depp interpreted the role and I gathered from that and I brought some of that to production while making it my own as well,” said Klein.

“Making ‘Willy Wonka Jr.’ has been a lot of fun,” said Tessa Lundheim, who plays Veruca Salt. “It’s great trying to figure out what to do for your character. I always thought Veruca would be a good character for me because I’ve been the villain in a lot of shows, so I though that was perfect.”

George Lindberg, who plays Mr. Salt, said watching the films has helped him prepare for his first big role. “I have liked the opportunity to be in the spotlight and have one of those big roles,” he said.

Attendees can grab their golden ticket at the door or online at bit.ly/2mYuRR8. Tickets are $5 for students and $10 for adults.

Show times are 7 p.m. Thursday, March 16; 7 p.m. Friday, March 17 and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 18.

The production will be in Minnetonka Middle School East’s cafeteria at 17000 Lake St. Ext., Minnetonka.

Contact Paige Kieffer at [email protected]