Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre; through Jan. 17
Walking into Civic Theatre's production of Willy Wonka, I expected grand things from resident designer Ryan Koharchik. He didn't disappoint: Roald Dahl's classic children's tale offers many opportunities for theater magic, from fizzy lifting drink and the chocolate river to the whimsical glass elevator, and Koharchik's grand set presented these moments in innovative ways that showcased the capabilities of Civic's new home, including a rail system capable of lifting people not only up and down, but "sideways and slantways and longways and backways," as the show's Wonkavator would have it.
The production features another improvement to the organization: kid stars trained in their newly-improved educational program. The young actors, in principal roles, gave inspirational performances that remind what it's like to dream big. For instance, Noah McCarty-Slaughter, in the role of Charlie Bucket, exuded a passion for performing that infected the entire ensemble of actors, both child and adult.
As Willy Wonka, recent IU graduate John O'Brien has big shoes to fill. It's nearly impossible not to think of Gene Wilder in his quintessential role. O'Brien did an admirable job of living up to the candy man we all know and love, but he largely failed to make the part his own. Regardless, the play presented an energetic ensemble, toe-tapping numbers and stunning design elements, all of which culminated to make for a magical experience. Directed by Robert Sorbrera.