Willy Wonka comes to life


MyKyla Hoofkin

Abigail Crutchfield (Charlie Bucket) receives a bar of chocolate.

Rider High School entered a world of pure imagination this past weekend as the theatre and choir departments put on a musical for the first time in years.

Theatre teacher Zachary Jackson and choir director Ayrian Norman collaborated on several shows together when they worked at McNiel Middle School. Since moving to Rider last year, the two decided to bring that tradition with them. 

The two teachers decided that Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka was the perfect show to do.

“We thought it would draw more attention because it’s well-known,” Jackson said. “We hoped the public and kids at school would want to be a part of it.”

The process of putting on the show wasn’t always easy. A big challenge for Jackson was scheduling rehearsals with the cast being involved in such a wide variety of activities outside of the show. 

“It’s great because we have so many other kids that aren’t just theatre kids that are apart of this, and I love that, but also they do other things,” Jackson said. 

With the show having so many magical elements, the technical aspects were difficult for Jackson initially. 

“When we had originally planned on doing this, (former Rider theatre teacher Tabitha) Cahanin was still here,” Jackson said. “That was all going to be something that she focused on, and it ended up being just me which is terrifying.” 

Despite the challenges, Jackson and his many talented theatre students delivered. With big, fun sets and props, awesome effects, and fun costumes, the magic of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory was brought to life. 

Another big part in creating the magic of the show was the cast. For Senior Smita Smith, who grew up watching the original Gene Wilder movie, getting to lead this cast held a lot of special meaning. 

 “It was one of the first community theatre shows that I saw in elementary school,” Smith said. “Now I’m a senior and for my main stage show I get to play Willy Wonka who meant so much to me as a child. So it’s just a lot of fun and nostalgia.”

Playing a character as iconic and beloved as Willy Wonka can be a lot of pressure. People expect a certain personality and presence from the character of Wonka.

“When we began the rehearsal process I was worried that I wasn’t able to invoke the right essence of the character,” Smith said. “But I feel like as time’s gone on I’ve really filled out all of those details and rounded out the character.” 

With a strong stage presence, and clear, powerful vocals, Smith delivered a unique spin on the role, while still staying true to the original charm and humor of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka.

Senior Abby Crutchfield played the kind-hearted, always optimistic nine-year-old, Charlie Bucket with a sweet, youthful energy. 

“It’s different than any other character I’ve played,” Crutchfield said. “I am usually casted as the female love interest or a young girl and I’m playing a nine-year-old boy. It can be challenging, but I just have fun with it and it works.” 

One of the youngest in the cast, freshman Rylee Cargal played the loud, gum-chewing, southerner Violet Beauregarde. 

“My favorite part of my character is having the southern accent,” Cargal said. “I already kind of have it. The accent is super fun to do and a lot of people think it’s funny.” 

Cargal gave a hilariously dramatic performance and perfectly portrayed the sassiness and energy that the role requires. 

Patrick Johnson, Trinity Anderson, and Weber Gilbert who played Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, and Mike Teavee respectively, were all fully immersed in their characters and committed to the accents and mannerisms that their characters required. 

And rounding out the leading cast Jeff Ross, Julia Fairchild, Rachel Goodner, Alyssa Thomas, and Colby Salas were all hilarious in their roles of the grandparents/parents and gave great acting performances.

The theatre department did an excellent job at making this show an immersive experience for the audience. The areas around the auditorium were decked out with various colorful decorations and during intermission some of the actors went around the auditorium, interacting with the audience in character. 

Between the technical elements, the cast, and the experience of the show overall, the theatre and choir departments truly delivered the whimsical and nostalgic feelings many people associate with Willy Wonka. 

“When I think of Willy Wonka I just think of the Gene Wilder movie and I know that brings a lot of fond memories to a lot of people,” Jackson said. “All the music from that movie is in the musical plus extra. So it’s a great nostalgia-type piece.”