Stage Right: Seeing a classic brought to life on ACT stage

Published 8:45 pm Friday, June 17, 2022

Stage Right by Erin Stoneking

Growing up as the daughter of Geri McShane, beloved community member and writer for the Albert Lea Tribune, I was exposed to our community theater at a young age. I remember attending rehearsals with her for shows that she was writing stories about. Because of this, I’ve always been fond of theater, especially our small community theater. In the last few weeks, I lost my aunt, my mom’s sister, Colleen, to brain cancer. This loss was especially hard as Colleen reminded me so much of my mom. When I was approached about attending a rehearsal to review the play, I was thrilled, and knew this would be a great way to honor both of their memories.

Erin Stoneking

As a child, I remember watching the original 1971 version of the “Willy Wonka” movie starring Gene Wilder. I loved the movie and could say it was one of my favorites. In 2005, the Johnny Depp version of the movie was released. I enjoyed the movie, but it did not compare to the original version. Having seen both movies, I was curious to see how the Albert Lea Community Theatre (ACT) would portray the show. Director Gordy Handeland and his actors and crew did a phenomenal job combining the original story with modern day. Barb Lang led the musical aspect of the show, and the pit orchestra put on a great performance.

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The show runs about two hours long with a 10-minute intermission. It opens with Andrew Anderson (Willy Wonka) singing the classic tune “Pure Imagination.” Anderson, a welcomed returning actor to the community theater, has a great voice, and is costumed perfectly as Wonka. Charlie Bucket is played by Alejandro Vasquez Perez, a young actor, making his debut on the ACT stage. Vasquez Perez excels in his role as Bucket. He has an amazing voice for his age and shows great confidence on stage. In the song “Think Positive,” Vasquez Perez was full of pure, authentic excitement.

“Willy Wonka” is full of actors who are familiar with the ACT stage, one being Aaron McVicker. McVicker is cast as Phineous Trout, the local news reporter. McVicker brings his comedic personality to the stage, while maintaining his role very well. Steve Stoneking is also a familiar face to community theater and is cast as Grandpa Joe. The set for the scene “Flying” was creatively done for Vasquez Perez and Stoneking to be able to “fly” and sing at the same time, while also bringing laughter from the audience. Stoneking, Anderson and Vasquez Perez made an excellent trio as leading actors in the show, especially in one of the final songs “Flying” (reprise), as their voices brought a perfect harmony to the scene.

I’m always impressed by the involvement of youth in our community theater, as well. It is my understanding that there was a tremendous amount of kids that tried out for the show. The ones that were cast did a great job, especially those who were cast as Oompa-Loompas. The Oompa-Loompas’ costumes were well done, matching what was done in the original movie.  Each kid in the Oompa-Loompa ensemble was well versed in their songs, lines and choreography, as well. My hat goes off to these kids for having the courage to try out for and perform in this show.

I’m looking forward to attending the show again this coming weekend with my family, and I encourage the rest of the community to attend a show as well. “Willy Wonka” is not a show to be missed on the community theater stage.

Erin Stoneking is an Albert Lea native and lives in town with her family. She is a registered nurse and graduate student. Outside of work and school, she enjoys reading, spending time with her dogs, kayaking and golfing.