One hundred and twenty Hoboken public school students in grades kindergarten through high school will participate in the 2018 play “Willy Wonka: The Musical,” open to the public from Friday, May 18 through Sunday, May 20.
The production is presented by the school district’s award-winning Theater Department, based in Hoboken High School.
The musical is based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” about five children who win a tour of the chocolate factory and compete to inherit it.
The musical features music from the 1971 film of the same name, including the song “The Candy Man,” made famous by Sammy Davis Jr.
The show can be enjoyed by all ages.
Getting into character
For some, the musical will be their theatrical debut.
Ethan Ortiz, a 10-year-old fifth grader from Calabro Elementary School, will star as Charlie Bucket in his first-ever production.
“I’ve never been in a play my whole life,” said Ortiz. “This is my first musical. It’s really fun. It’s fun because you can act and express yourself and sing and dance. Like, when Charlie’s sad, I get to act sad and show people I’m sad and stuff.”
Ortiz said he wanted to audition because he thought it would be a new experience. He usually plays baseball and basketball and wanted to try something new.
He said his older sister helped him decide to audition.
“I didn’t think I was going to come,” said Ortiz, who noted he originally wanted to play the television-obsessed character of Mike TV because he likes his “attitude.”
But Ortiz said he isn’t nervous about starring, noting that he used to play pretend with his sister at home when he was younger. “I have the courage to do good, and I think I’ll do good.”
He said his favorite scene is when Charlie finds the golden ticket in a Wonka candy bar. But he also likes the scenes when he “flies” using a harness and pulley system.
“The scene with the golden ticket is fun because Charlie never had anything and when he got it it was an opportunity. It was like a miracle for him. I get to sing a good song, too,” he said.
In the book, Charlie comes from a poor family. The other kids show various levels of greed.
The other actors in the play are seasoned veterans of school productions.
Kendall McDonough, a 12 year-old sixth grader from Wallace Elementary School, plays mean girl Veruca Salt.
She said it’s fun getting to play a character so different from herself.
“I’m not mean [in real life], and it’s fun to be mean when you’re told to,” said McDonough. “It’s a different experience being a bad guy.”
McDonough said she gets into character by watching the movie. “If I’m mad on the inside that day, I can use that when I’m on stage being Veruca.”
This will be the last show for high school senior David Rivera, who began acting in school productions in the fifth grade and plays Mr. Bucket, Charlie’s father.
Rivera said his character isn’t in the movie, so he feels like he gets to make it up as he goes along, and that he gets a lot of the character’s inspiration from his own dad.
Rivera said, “I look at what my dad does and think, that’s something I would do, and use it. He doesn’t know I’m doing that, actually.”
He said he has to “dig deep” to get into his character, but having a little brother and mentoring his on-stage son Ethan has helped with the role.
“Mentoring Ethan and teaching him about everything and making sure he is ready for the show helps me get into the fatherly role,” said Rivera.
About performing for the last time in school, he said, “Honestly, it’s going to be amazing. Sure, it’s sad to say I’m going, but I feel the time has come and I’m ready to leave.”
“I have the courage to do good, and I think I’ll do good.”—Ethan Ortiz
Practice makes perfect
The production is directed by Danielle Miller, with music direction by Kristen Hoyt and choreography by Britteny Schruefer.
Miller said each year the program grows, and finding shows that can accommodate a large group of students can be difficult. But she feels a district-wide show is important.
“It bridges all our schools together and families get to see the importance of arts education,” she said. “Parents of students in all different grades tell me about the confidence growing in their kids and their excitement finding a passion.”
Hoyt said, “In a city like Hoboken when everyone is working all the time, it’s an opportunity for whole families to be together doing something everyone can enjoy that’s not just watching a movie. It’s a real affordable quality family event.”
Hoyt said people who have cherished the music from the movie won’t be disappointed. Famous songs like “Pure Imagination,” and Veruka Salt’s “I Want it Now” are in the musical as well as others they wouldn’t have heard before. Other characters get solos, their “moments to shine.”
Students have had a hand in the entire production of the show, not just acting — from set design and construction to publication of the Playbill.
“It really is a learning experience,” said Miller. “These kids have been rehearsing and working on the play since March, and in eight or nine weeks’ time, they really present a professional production.”
Get your golden ticket
Performances will take place on Friday, May 18 at 7 p.m., Saturday, May 19 at 2 p.m., and Sunday, May 20 at 2 p.m. General admission tickets are $10 and students/seniors are $5. Tickets can be purchased online at https://hhsnj.booktix.com/dept/Theatre. Tickets will be available at the door, but the shows are likely to sell out. Miller said tickets are going fast.
All proceeds from the ticket sales go back to the theater and music departments.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at email@example.com.