Come with me and you’ll be
In a world of pure imagination!
Take a look and you’ll see
Into your imagination.
We’ll begin with a spin
Travelling in a work of my creation!
What we’ll see
Will defy explanation!
– Willy Wonka
Willy Wonka welcomes the audience with these lyrics, and it is director Joe Leonardo’s job to make this come true for the audience. Together with his set, costume, lighting and puppet designers, they will create many locations, from Brazil to Germany, from the simple shack where Charlie lives to the mysterious splendor of the chocolate factory. In just 57 pages, the set changes 21 times, so the challenge isn’t only to create the locations, but to do it quickly and move on to the next. According to Leonardo, “Working through the transitions will be a major part of the rehearsal process, because it could really slow the show down. Figuring those out is the most important thing. We will have good actors and we have a good choreographer, and I am confident that we’ll get through the staging. It’s making sure that it all flows. Some of the scenes are exceedingly short. So the actors and the staging have to be precise and concise. They just have to hit the mark and make the point and move on.”
Leonardo is working with the design team to develop ideas for the worlds of the play. There is a timeless quality to the play that seems to inhabit both our contemporary world, with televisions and video games, and an almost Depression feeling to Charlie Bucket’s world. The designers are working with the idea of a parallel universe, where all these places coexist. Leonardo explains that they are developing “the iconic image for each character that will represent the style of existence. So it will be a Dickensian, London blitz for the Buckets, and Mike Teavee in California will be in a room filled with all kinds of TVs. He will wear holsters like a kid with guns, but he’ll be carrying remotes and his iPod.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge is to create the magical world of the Willy Wonka’s factory, with a chocolate river, psychedelic boat ride, floating people and Oompa Loompas. Leonardo plans on heightening the effect by using contrast in the colors. “We are keeping the color palette very controlled in the opening through the time we go into the factory. It will be devoid of color, especially for the Bucket’s life—it will be monochromatic almost. But even the other places we go will be subdued, so that when we go into the factory, the whole thing goes “boom,” and we’re in acid color, with all kinds of special effects and fun there.”
Looking forward to the rehearsals, Leonardo feels that the cast of eight will “be able to have great fun because everybody gets to play multiple roles. There is a lot in it—it’s rich—there just isn’t a lot of time to on stage to lay it in. So we have to be so clear in our storytelling, the performances have to be precise, and each moment has to be worked out. You have to get the essence of every moment—there isn’t a lot of throwaway.”