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As the opening chords to the ever-ethereal “Pure Imagination” sang out from the pit orchestra and the lights dimmed, the audience hushed with anticipation. Some in the audience may have been surprised to hear a female voice float out from the stage- I, for one, was excited.
Pioneer High School’s Willy Wonka challenged a lot of my prior notions of what the show should be. With the two leads, Wonka and Charlie, gender bent to become female characters, the fun and frothy children’s tale became a story of women dreaming big and accomplishing even bigger things. These two phenomenal young women blew away the audience with their crystal-clear vocals and undeniable charm in their respective roles. You would never have guessed that it was originally any other way.
Some other highlights of the show included the witty banter between the four Bucket family grandparents stuck in one communal bed in the poor household. Despite their bleak background, they provided an air of comedy and lightness from their mishearings to their unending support of our main character, Charlie. Francisco Fiori, a Pioneer Senior, played Grandpa Joe with a particular level of lovability from the moment he hopped out of bed to wobble hilariously across the stage. The show was riddled with hidden technical gems such as the inflation of Violet Beauregarde into a real-life blueberry and funny moments such as the “Burping Song” where Charlie and her Grandfather literally burp themselves down from flying.
Ethan Steiner as Augustus and Ayla Hoermann as Mrs. Gloop were another delightful surprise, delivering some incredibly realistic German accents and a exaggerated obsession with food that was enough to make anyone smile. I guess no one should be surprised, since Ethan Steiner was recently seen in the stage recording of Disney’s Newsies. No big deal. Of course I couldn’t not mention the Oompa Loompas and the ensemble as a whole, whose strong vocals, choreography during large group numbers, and aptly-timed entrances brought so much to the performance and really took it to the next level. And let me just gush about the set for a minute- an intricate shades-of-grey city backdrop that could turn and fold and move to become the inside of Willy Wonka’s colorful factory really took the audience with the cast on the journey of Charlie’s dismal world turned into endless possibility.
Overall, this show provided some feel-good whimsy and some serious talent not just for high school, but by any standards.
By Sarah Kennedy