Central Kitsap Arts Center Hosts ‘Willy Wonka’ Musical

SILVERDALE — When Don Fox made his way through a legion of Oompa-Loompas Friday at the Central Kitsap Performing Arts Center, he couldn’t help but smile at the sight of youngsters wearing neon colored wigs candy on the head.

“They’ve never worn them before, so they’re thrilled,” Fox said.

As director of the performing arts center and producer of the Aug. 11-14 presentation of Roald Dahl’s “Willy Wonka,” Fox knows that rehearsal time is valuable for everyone involved. About 100 students in grades 3 through 12 make up the cast, with additional students serving as apprentices to the stage crew or playing in the orchestra.

Add to that about 100 parent volunteers, and there are 243 people tasked with bringing “Willy Wonka” to life. The 90-minute performance, directed by Gretchen Dru, will feature many songs from the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder, including “Pure Imagination,” “The Candyman” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket.”

“This isn’t your typical school play,” Fox said. “It’s a Broadway-level production for our kids.”

This is Central Kitsap School District’s first swing at a district-wide musical since the performing arts center opened in 2019 as part of the new Central Kitsap High School construction project. Fox said “Willy Wonka” is an opportunity for the district to show off the 900-seat facility, which recently added a video wall consisting of 25 television screens measuring 85 inches each.

“We need big projects that make the community say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that was possible,'” Fox said.

Working in professional theater for two decades and acting as production manager/lighting designer for Moscow Ballet’s The Great Russian Nutcracker, Fox said he’s seen many of the best performing arts centers in America. North including the Paramount Theater in Seattle, the Fox Theater in St Louis and the Kings Theater in Brooklyn, New York.

According to Fox, the Central Kitsap Performing Arts Center meets all needs, and even some.

“This space is world class, it really is,” Fox said. “Everything that has been put into this space has been done well.”

Grandpa Joe (played by Riley Franco) and Charlie (played by Miles Borer) float through the air with the help of harnesses during rehearsal for the Central Kitsap School District's Summer Musical: Willy Wonka at the Auditorium CKHS on Friday, August 5, 2022.

Bringing “Willy Wonka” on stage took months of work. More than 300 students showed up on March 27 for four hours of auditions, which attracted a wide range of students, some of whom had no theater background.

“We have kids whose parents brought them into the audition saying, ‘My kid’s kind of a fish out of water, that sounds perfect to them,'” Fox said. “We have kids who have never done anything on stage and are like, ‘Wow, I never thought I could do something like this.’ And then we have children who have been in other local productions, school or church productions.

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The play features separate ensembles – actors Chocolate and Lollipop – who will share performance duties from August 11-14. For rising eighth-grader Jane Frandsen, who will be attending Ridgetop Middle School, “Willy Wonka” will be her 13th play. His role is Charlie in the cast of Lollipop.

“I’m so excited,” Frandsen said. “The scene is so beautiful.”

For Ryder Roark Myers, a sixth-grader at Ridgetop and one of two students who will play the role of Mike Teavee, “Willy Wonka” will be a first performance.

“When I heard about the auditions, I was so excited,” Roark Myers said. “I didn’t even care to play a lead role. I wanted to be on the show so badly.”

Bella Franco, a rising ninth grader who is attending school virtually, showed up to the auditions wearing a full costume and top hat and won the role of the lead character in the Lollipop cast.

“My very first role (in ‘The Lion King’) wasn’t even a speaking role: Ed the hyena, who just sticks his tongue out,” Franco said. “Now I have 92 lines which are mostly paragraphs and I have several songs sung and I’ve never sung a solo before. So that’s exciting.

After nearly a month of rehearsals, everyone can’t wait for opening night to arrive.

“We’re going to do our best,” said Cameron Shelman, a ninth grader at Olympic High School who will play Grandpa Joe for the cast of Lollipop.

Fox sees “Willy Wonka” as a starting point for the Central Kitsap Performing Arts Center and is eager to create a tradition of district-wide projects at the site.

He said community members who support the project by attending a show are going to be thrilled: “Come see what we can do locally when we think about it.”

The Oompa Loompas say goodbye to Willy Wonka (played by Daisy Gemmer), Charlie (played by Miles Borer) and Grandpa Joe (played by Riley Franco) during the rehearsal for the Central Kitsap School District's Summer Musical at the 'CKHS Auditorium on Friday August 5th.  , 2022.

Tickets are on sale now at ckschools.org for five performances of “Willy Wonka” at 7:30 p.m. on August 11, 12, and 13, and 2 p.m. on August 13 and 14, at Central Kitsap Performing Arts Center at Central Kitsap High School.

William E. Bennett