Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka
Valley Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent review of Roger & Gene

Davin Williams, top, and Cast
Photo by Jenny Kaufman
Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka at Valley Youth Theatre is a crowd-pleasing production of Dahl's beloved children's book. Featuring songs from the 1971 classic film, the stage adaptation captures the whimsical charm and magical essence of Dahl's story. With a large and talented cast, colorful sets, and imaginative costumes, VYT's production makes for an enchanting journey into the fantastical world of Willy Wonka and his magical chocolate factory.

If you haven't seen the film, read the book, or just need a refresher, the plot of Willy Wonka follows the young and poor Charlie Bucket, who lives in a small, rundown house with his loving parents and four bedridden grandparents. Hearing that Willy Wonka has hidden five "Golden Tickets" inside Wonka chocolate bars and that the five children who find them will win a tour of Wonka's mysterious chocolate factory, Charlie makes it his mission to find one of the tickets.

This stage adaptation is faithful to Dahl's original 1964 work, which serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of bad behavior, and uses all of the wonderful songs from the film that featured music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley as well as new ones written by Bricusse. While the new songs never rise to the excellence of the catchy film tunes, the book by Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald manages to weave Wonka more fully into the story by having him serve as the narrator of the story. So, while he's less mysterious than in the film, where he didn't appear until the five winners were at the chocolate factory, the musical makes him more invested in the plot and also helps to flesh out the characters. While Roald's book was more menacing in nature, and the recent Broadway adaptation, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which also features some of the more famous film songs, also played up the more ominous tones in the book, here, while there is a sense of danger at times, the story is played more PG than PG-13, so is appropriate for almost all ages.

The large cast under Mark Stoddard's warm and playful direction create endearing portrayals. Davin Williams is a bright and mischievous Willy Wonka, and Hudson Hubbell is charming and engaging as Charlie. Both create charismatic characters with Williams appropriately whimsical and unpredictable as the eccentric chocolatier and Hubbell heartfelt, sincere, and genuine as the innocent optimist.

As Charlie's family, Dash Deusterman and Kathlyn Grimwood project empathy as his parents and Noah Paz, Chloe Finch, Bobby Peatman (VYT's production manager who was subbing for an ill Donovan Denny at the performance I attended), and Jadyn Carter are hilarious as his frequently confused grandparents; Paz shines as the crotchety Grandpa Joe. The four other children who join Charlie on the Wonka chocolate factory tour are all self-centered brats and they, and their equally appalling parents, are brought to life by a wonderful ensemble of comic actors, including Jacob Hammond and Lucy Glow as the gluttonous Augustus Gloop and his mother, Claire Calihan and Julia Lane as the constantly gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde and her mom, Grier Donnally and James Nesbitt as the spoiled Veruca Salt and her father, and Santiago Lacey and Paige Schmella as the TV-obsessed Mike Teavee and his mother. Their comically exaggerated portrayals add plenty of pops of humor to the production.

In smaller roles, Jaden Sparkman is engaging as the local candy store owner who delivers a charming performance of "The Candy Man," and Morgan James is bright as the TV reporter who delivers humorous patter about the ticket winners. The large ensemble shines throughout as Charlie's schoolmates, workers, and the mischievous Oompa Loompas who work at Wonka's factory.

Dori Brown's set design is colorful and whimsical with several impressive projections that help immerse the stage in the fantastical factory settings. Karol Cooper's costumes are wonderful, including some fun and original creations for the Oompa Loompas that, smartly, don't mimic the film designs. The lighting by Jeff A. Davis features a non-stop parade of colors, shadows and hues, which helps to maintain both a sense of imagination and also moments of danger in the scenes set at Wonka's factory. Choreographer Kathleen Brazie creates many fun dance moves, especially the ones for the Oompa Loompas. Tom Holmberg's sound design derives clear lyrics and dialogue. The music direction by Mark Fearey delivers fairly rich and crisp notes from the entire cast and the 14-member orchestra sounds fantastic under John Luke Osorio's conducting.

Featuring the beloved movie songs, including "Pure Imagination" and "The Candy Man," Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka is a funny and heartwarming musical comedy. With captivating performances and colorful creative elements, Valley Youth Theatre's production is a delicious, magical treat.

Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka runs through June 23, 2024, at Valley Youth Theatre at the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased by calling 602-252-8497 or at

Director: Mark Stoddard
Musical Director: Mark Fearey
Choreographer: Kathleen Brazie
Scenic Designer: Dori Brown
Costume Designer: Karol Cooper
Lighting Designer: Jeff A. Davis
Sound Designer: Tom Holmberg
Production Stage Manager: Morgan McCall

Willy Wonka: Davin Williams
Candy Man: Jaden Sparkman
Charlie Bucket: Hudson Hubbell
Mr Bucket: Dash Deusterman
Mrs Bucket: Kathlyn Grimwood
Grandpa Joe: Noah Paz
Grandma Josephine: Chloe Finch
Grandpa George: Donovan Denny
Grandma Georgina: Jadyn Carter
Phineous Trout: Morgan James
Augustus Gloop: Jacob Hammond
Mrs. Gloop: Lucy Glow
Veruca Salt: Grier Donnally
Mr. Salt: James Nesbitt
Mike Teavee: Santiago Lacey
Ms. Teavee: Paige Schmella
Violet Beauregarde : Claire Calihan
Mrs. Beauregard: Julia Lane
Oompa Loompas: Mahagani Carter, Zoey Davidson, Riley Gerkin, Kamden Hooper, Azra Kearns, Quinn Kindy, Kaylah Magee, Colton Wilcher
Candy Kids: London Cairney, Alfie Christie, Ellie Evans, Taylor Kunich, Avaani Lallian, Va'Nessa Madden, Kyler Tilley
Ensemble: Dance Ensemble, Cooks, Shop Workers, Squirrels: Ruby Crogan, Janaysha Garcia, Maddie Sue Miller, Aeryn Pew, Sierra Ricks, Lauren Strick