St. Edmond’s brings Willy Wonka to life for spring musical; Kids and chocolate, who could want anything more
The fun and craziness never stop in Willy Wonka’s world.
Kids, chocolate, Oompa Loompas, not to mention music, dancing, and plenty of laughs, are all part of the production as St. Edmond High School brings the musical “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” to the local stage for a series of performances Thursday through Saturday.
“We always look for something that has a lot of roles in it so we can get a lot of student participation,” said Alyssa Sparks, drama director for the production. “We like something that has a lot of good, fun musical numbers. We just like to include as many students as possible.”
With nearly 50 students in speaking characters, the ensemble, and dancers, student involvement is key and practice nights at the St. Edmond auditorium find students helping each other run lines, sharing chats about the production, or even studying on laptops between scenes.
Written in 1964 by British author Roald Dahl and also known as “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory,” this classic tale will have audiences bending over with laughter as the cast from St. Edmond brings joy and abundant energy to this fun-filled version of the musical.
Three lead characters nearly bounce off each with enthusiasm for the production as Denny Ehn takes on the title role of Willy Wonka, also known as the Candy Man, while Levi Odor-Westrum takes on the role of Charlie Bucket, and Zach Midtling shines as Grandpa Joe.
This is the second play or musical for Ehn, who says he has seen the movie version multiple times.
“I love the boat scene,” Ehn said. “It’s very mysterious.”
Ehn, a junior at St. Edmond, is also active in chorus, speech and track, and enjoys the teamwork aspect of theater and drama.
“Getting to see the show come together is very exciting,” Ehn said.
Odor-Westrum, a sophomore, can barely count the number of plays and musicals he’s been in, including community theater work in both Webster City and Fort Dodge.
In his character as Charlie Bucket, Odor-Westrum said he is learning how to take a more positive approach to life.
“Charlie is a very positive character,” Odor-Westrum said. “He’s comfortable in his own skin. He’s very poor, but he sees the bright side of everything… All he ever gets to eat is left-over cabbage soup, but he’s still very happy.”
Midtling, a junior, is in his third production and finds drama a great fit for his fun-loving personality.
“I enjoy having fun with it, and not always being serious,” Midtling said. “Drama is like an escape. It’s fun to take on another role and bring that character to life.”
Midtling said he appreciates how the teamwork, time commitment, and simple hard work build relationships among the cast and crew.
“We have a great time together,” said Midtling.
For Sparks, seeing the students turn out night after night for rehearsal, and watching them grow, is the most rewarding aspect.
“It’s amazing to me, and I say this every year, to see how kids come in and progress over the course of a couple of months, to get more comfortable on stage. They really learn so much and become more confident in their abilities, better singers, better actors,” she said. ‘It’s just so much fun to see that progression.”
Planning for this year’s musical began shortly after last year’s production wrapped up, according to Sparks. Committee members review possible shows and submit a list to the school administration for approval in the fall. The goal is to find a family friendly show that encourages high student participation, and keeps the audience laughing all night long.
“The characters are very familiar to anyone who has seen the movie,” Sparks said.
Still there are a few diversions, instead of a swan laying golden eggs there’s… well, let’s not spoil the surprise.
The musical and dance numbers are sure to be a hit as students were on their feet in an impressive early practice run in February. Because of the large cast, even middle school students are taking part in this year’s production, having a chance to learn from the upper classmen as it takes the entire cast to make the show a success.
“We have a middle school chorus and that’s different than most of the shows,” Sparks said. ‘It’s really nice to be able to include them.”
Jacque Batz serves as choral director for the show and has been impressed with the dedication cast members have shown.
“Seeing them outside of class, and watching them get excited about the show is so much fun,” Batz said. “The kids work very hard. They pick up things so fast. They are singing and dancing, and pulling it all together just very well.”
The fine arts, Batz noted, can be a wonderful way to build skills that students can use throughout their lives.
“They build so much confidence being in front of people,” Batz said. “Having fun is also a really important aspect of it. I don’t think there’s a point in doing anything if you’re not going to have fun. It’s hard work and dedication, but we always have fun along the way.
Rounding out the leadership team for the production is choreographer Jenna Hendrix. Countless volunteers also work behind the scenes to pull it all together.
If You Go
St. Edmond High School musical
“Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”
7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday,
3 p.m. on Saturday
St. Edmond High School,
501 N. 22nd St.