Oompa Loompa, doom-pa-dee-do, J.W. Sexton High School has got a musical for you. The theater department presented Willy Wonka Junior March 22-24.
Willy Wonka Junior follows the family of Charlie Bucket and four other golden ticket winners into the chocolate factory.
The cast consists of 17 ambitious students ranging from 7th to 12th grade. The lead role, Willy Wonka was played by sophomore Emoni Richardson. She says it was her first musical ever, and she was very nervous.
“I’ve loved this production. I’ve always loved chocolate and candy,” Richardson said. “I thought it was a great idea to actually do it. When they said it was a musical, I said, ‘Oh wow! I love music, I love singing, this is perfect.’”
Family members from the cast and supporters of the theater department came to support the production’s opening night.
Betty Berry, the grandmother of Bre’Anna Nixon who was cast as Veruca Salt, has been to a previous production.
“I thought they did really well for high school,” Berry said. “The singing was really good. Several of the kids in the production are a part of the choir.”
Keeping the art programs alive is a challenge, especially when funding is an issue. Theater productions are self-funded programs without a district budget. While other schools have elaborate sets and costumes, this play was staged with what they were given or already had.
The students have raised money by selling ads, getting patrons to donate and running a fall haunted house.
Julie Linderleaf, a teacher and director, pays for a lot of the material like props, royalties, costumes, set building pieces, tools and food, out of pocket.
“My biggest problem is that the students that I get interested in theater want to be involved in absolutely everything,” Linderleaf said. “Since a play or especially a musical has a 6-8 week rehearsal schedule, some students end up choosing sports over keeping their roles, and I’ve actually had this as an answer: ‘you can’t get a scholarship for theater.’ I roll my eyes and tell them ‘yes, you can, but the process is a longer and harder process.”’
Technical difficulties gave the cast and crew new issues every night, but the positivity of the students and interaction from the crowd brought a solid show every night. Linderleaf reminded the students that there are solutions to situations, keeping them resilient.
“I’m gonna do more plays and musicals,” Richardson said. “I want to go forward in my acting and singing career. Music is everything to me.”