COLUMBIA — "Big smiles!" co-director and choreographer Tamra Walker said as the cast began singing and dancing last Saturday in the gymnasium of New Haven Elementary School. The production, "Willy Wonka Junior," based on author Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," kicks off Theater Reaching Young People and Schools' 10th season.
Among the 65 children in the cast are Walker's son, 10-year-old Cole, and daughter, 11-year-old Leslie. Cole plays the lead, Charlie Bucket, a boy who wins a golden ticket into Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.
What: "Willy Wonka Junior," presented by TRYPS Children's Theater
When: 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Launer Auditorium, Columbia College, 901 Rogers St.
Admission: $7 general and $3 lapseats for children under 2. Box office opens an hour before the curtain. Advanced tickets on sale at Hy-Vee, all Callaway Bank lobbies and First National Bank in downtown Columbia. For information, call TRYPS at 449-4536.
"I like the song '(I've Got) A Golden Ticket' and the last number a lot," Cole said. At rehearsal, his mother directed the kids to practice that last number, "The Candy Man," three extra times to make sure everyone knew exactly what to do and where to be.
Both Walker and her husband, Brett, are experienced in theater and dance, and their children seem to share their interest. "It was just sort of inevitable," Walker said.
She said it's hard waking her kids up for school in the morning, but if she's waking them for rehearsal, it's a different story — they jump up out of bed right away.
As Veruca Salt, Leslie Walker plays a spoiled and loud girl. Her prestigious father uses his wealth to buy tons of candy bars to win one of the golden tickets for his demanding daughter. "She's the Paris Hilton of the cast," Tamra Walker said, adding, "Leslie's not typically a bratty person."
Leslie said she liked being able to play such a different role. "Plus, I just love candy a lot, too," she said.
Naomi LaFond, who is directing "Willy Wonka Junior" with Walker, said the play has life lessons for parents and children about greed, lying and selfishness.
One of its most challenging aspects, Walker said, was that not everyone in the cast was comfortable singing and dancing. But because there was so much of both in the production, it helped "the kids really grow and find their inner dancer."
"Tammy can make a dancer out of anyone," LaFond said, referring to Walker.
TRYPS does a special event in conjunction with each production to help support the nonprofit TRYPS Children's Theater and their current production. For "Willy Wonka Junior," they had a tea-party and a "Royal Chocolate Cotillion" at the Columbia Mall. Guests participated in sing-a-longs, dancing and a "Royal Parade," with characters dressed as Belle, Cinderella, Snow White and Ariel.