Ascension Community Theatre's  "Willy Wonka" falls somewhere between Gene Wilder's portrayal of Roald Dahl's candy creator and Johnny Depp's.

"He's a mixture of the best characteristics of both," said Richard Williams, who is playing the lead role. "I like to describe him as creatively cynical."

ACT opens the musical July 11, and director Lin Holdridge emphasizes this version is based on the 1971 film "Willly Wonka & the Chocolate Factory."

"That's the version with the songs that we all know," Holdridge said. "The stage version has all of those songs, and it's just magical."

And Holdridge knows all about magic. Before his recent retirement, he worked on productions for Disney, and he brings that experience to this show.

Holdrige also took on set designer duties for Wonka's candy factory, where everything is made of sweets.

"It had to be something big and colorful and almost cartoonish in creating this world," Holdridge said. "I think we achieved that."

The show opens with Wonka introducing himself as the main character and the story's narrator.

"He opens the show with 'Pure Imagination,' which is a dream song for any tenor," Williams said. "So, this not only is a bucket list show for me, this is a bucket list song."

Wonka tells his Oompa Loompa servants that he is retiring, and must choose a successor to take over his chocolate factory. But that successor must be a child, because only a youngster could understand the magic of Wonka's work.

He announces a contest. Five golden tickets will be inserted into five of his candy bars, which are distributed worldwide. The winners will have a chance to tour his factory.

Charlie Buckey, played by Thomas Aulet, wants to be one of those five kids, but he knows his impoverished background puts him at a disadvantage. His family doesn't have extra money for Wonka Bars.

But after an act of honesty, Charlie prevails and finds the last ticket. He joins the other four children on the tour, and the adventure begins.

Both the musical and the film are based on Dahl's children's book, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," which teaches different morals through each of the five children's attitudes and actions.

And Wonka handles each situation, as Williams described it, in a "creatively cynical" way.

"He knows who they are, and he already knows what's going to happen, because they are who they are," Williams said. "My favorite line in the play happens after Augustus and Violet are taken away. Willy says, 'Two naughty little children gone. How delightful.'"

As the story progresses, so will the special effects.

"Again, the factory is a magical place, so there will be some surprises for the audience," Holdridge said. "It's Willy Wonka, so the audience will be expecting magic."      


'Willy Wonka'

An Ascension Community Theatre production

WHEN: July 11-14, July 18-21, July 25-28. Performances begin at 7 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. 

WHERE: Ascension Community Theatre, 823 N. Felicity Ave., Gonzales

TICKETS/INFO: $30; $20, children. (225) 647-1230 or actgonzales.org


Email Robin Miller at romiller@theadvocate.com