Review Torrance Theatre Company – Willy Wonka – Aug 2013

Torrance Theatre Company’s summer musical at the Armstrong Theatre has become a South Bay entertainment tradition, and the last two years have been great for family entertainment, with “Fiddler on the Roof” in 2012 and this year’s, “Willy Wonka.” SoCal Youth Theatre squeezed into a very full house to catch opening night of Willy Wonka last night.

Willy Wonka picTorrance Theatre Company is a community theatre company sponsored by the City of Torrance. Though not technically a “youth theatre” company, this production has so many kids in it, that it might as well be! Of the cast of 36, seventeen are children, starting at age 8.

Each of the lead children, starting with Charlie Bucket, played by Logan Gould, showed great vocal talents. Logan’s “Think Positive” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” soared, and he has the moves of a young man comfortable onstage and performing head-to-head with adults.

Andres de Dios, playing Augustus Gloop, paired with Cindy Shields, as Mrs. Gloop, to create a comic mother-son team, with fat Augustus wriggling excitedly for the food treats his mother would lower into his mouth.

Daniel Obejas, as Mike Teavee, brought a unique twist to his character, playing him as more of an older, long-haired, almost-goth teen, and was able to slip in some of the updated script lines. One in particular stands out, with its reference to a Sharknado sequel. Gone are the days of Mike Teavee just watching TV. Now he’s multitasking on cell phones, tablets, and and other hand-held gaming devices, and lamenting the lack of WiFi in Willy Wonka’s factory.

Gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde is sassily played by Lauren Oseas, who gets to let loose in her big number, “Chew It,” which, you may recall, results in a very-blueberry Violet.

We’ve always been partial to the spoiled-brat character, Veruca Salt, and the young actress, Makenzie Browning, who played her played it to the hilt in her big number, “I Want it Now!”

The Oompa Loompas were quirky and seemed to have more individuality to them than we’ve noticed in other productions we’ve seen.

The adults in the cast, including Willy Wonka, played by Jared Pugh, and Charlie’s parents, played by Tim Blake and Mallory Gantner, have gorgeous voices, and there are some wonderful comic moments by Charlie’s grandparents, played by Gary Robbins (Grandpa Joe), Karen Gebhard, Bob Baumsten, and Glenda Wells.

Other performers of note included Perry Shields who had a nice take on Mr. Salt and the charming young pair, James and Matilda, played by Joshua Velez and Jennifer Siao.

The sets were fantastic, apparently designed by someone from Disney, and combined with truly creative projections, gave an exceptional overall production value. And that’s before we even mention that several of the characters “fly” in the show. Wow!

We were fully expecting to complain about the tech at the Armstrong because it has been our experience at every youth theatre production there that sound and light cues are on a different time zone from the actors, but maybe because the mayor and so many city employees were in the audience, they figured they had to do a good job. Anyway, sound and lights were nearly flawless. Bravo! (Now do that for every company that uses the theatre, please.)

We’d love to be able to come back and see the final weekend. We’re sure the pacing of the show will tighten up. We also want more attention paid to meaningful choreography. When we see musicals, dancing should be an important element, but we’re often disappointed by the simplistic moves (for adults, as well as kids).

Take the family and see Willy Wonka and you’ll bring back memories and create new ones for the kids!

Plays twice per weekend thru August 17th.