In The Grand’s “Willy Wonka” musical, (from left) Sarah Mislang and Gage Pileggi play Mrs. Gloop and Augustus Gloop while Noelle Hanson has the role of Violet Beauregarde. Other cast members shown include: Ben Chandler (Willy Wonka), Tim McCluskey (Grandpa Joe), John Hamer (Mr. Salt), Stephanie Bradshaw (Ms. Teavee), Megan Gerbi (Veruca Salt) and Finn Monahan (Mike Teavee). PHOTO COURTESY OF NICK NAVARRE

Treat yourself to “Willy Wonka” beginning Sept. 30

ELLSWORTH — When they held auditions for The Grand’s fall production of the musical “Willy Wonka,” director Ashley Terwilliger and choreographer Lauren Billings were thrilled by the turnout – both in numbers and talent. 

“I think after two years of shutdown, and then another season of uncertainty, people are just excited to get on with their lives – have fun,” the director said at a rehearsal last weekend. 

Of course, this outpouring of enthusiasm has created a few challenges as well. As Grand productions are pretty much an ‘anyone who wants to participate is welcome’ kind of deal, Terwilliger and Billings must now manage a cast of 47, with double casting for all the principal children’s roles. It’s a lot. 

But the two young women seem to have it well in hand. At least they are keeping their own acts together, as they run veritable herds of children through their paces. 

Mostly they are getting through the choreography pretty well, but after a few ragged interludes where the youngsters playing Oompa Loompas are uncertain where they are supposed to go and what their arms are meant to be doing, Billings halts the action. 

“OK, that was great,” she says gently. “But I can see we’ve forgotten a few directions, so let’s go over it a few more times.” 

“And I’d like to see a little more acting, please” Terwilliger adds. “Even if you have nothing to do at any given moment, you still need to stay in character, react to what others are doing. I never want to look up and see anyone just standing around looking blank.” 

Later, a large group of little Oompa Loompas sits on the stage and are asked why their characters behave certain ways. 

“Why do you suppose they act surprised when Willy Wonka talks about retiring?” Billings asks. 

“Well, maybe they didn’t know he was thinking about that and maybe a little worried what it means for them?” a child responds. 

“That is a great answer,” Billings says and asks a few more such questions before calling for another run-through. This time the Oompas look properly surprised and a little worried. 

In the lobby, Terwilliger at a piano keyboard uses the same sort of encouraging words with one of her Charlie Buckets, Keenan Beal, as he struggles with a difficult passage in one of his solos. The boy has a good ear and strong soprano voice and in short order has mastered the phrase to both of their satisfactions. 

As Willy Wonka, Benjamin Chandler (last seen as the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz,”) seems to be a smart casting choice, although I did wonder with his sweet manner and even sweeter tenor whether he could bring Roald Dahl’s signature darkness to the table. 

“Oh yes,” Terwilliger assures me. “I’m following the Gene Wilder version, which shows both the innocence and the occasional creepiness of Willy Wonka. There are several places where Ben really gets to show the creepy side.” 

Later they run through the “Wonkatania” song where Willy takes all his golden ticket winners for on a “Tunnel of Terror” ride. And, yes, there it is. 

Although this scene features a nicely constructed boat, with only two weeks to go until opening night Sept. 30, I am a bit surprised at the dearth of set construction on The Grand’s stage. But Grand Operations Manager Kim Fitch assures me that construction is well underway at the set shop. She adds that, as they have in the past, they will be using screen projections to create some of the special chocolate factory scenes and effects, as well as some homemade illusions. 

“One of the reasons I wanted to do this show,” Fitch says, “was for the colorful characters, colorful sets and costumes, the fun music and opportunity for some neat special effects – you know, the entertainment factors.” 

She also points out that not only did they have a great turnout of actors but they also recruited enough musicians to form a full pit orchestra under the direction of David Sheehy.  

Well, there seems little doubt that audiences will be delighted, surprised, a little creeped out and, you know, “entertained” by this enchanting musical show. 

In fact, the enthusiasm for this show has been so great they’ve added a third weekend to the performance schedule. Performances are at 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Sept. 30-Oct. 1, Oct. 7-8 and Oct. 14-15. Matinees are at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, Oct. 9 and Oct. 16.  

The Sept. 29 dress rehearsal is “pay what you wish.” Otherwise, tickets cost $25 per adult and senior, $22 for Grand members and $18 for students 17 and under. 

To reserve seats, call (207) 667-9500 or visit 

Nan Lincoln

Nan Lincoln

The former arts editor at the Bar Harbor Times writes reviews and feature stories for The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.