Eric Harrison, Arkansas Democrat Gazette
More than three dozen young actors are turning the Arkansas Repertory Theatre into a Dahl house.
The entirely local cast of 39 youngsters, age 10-17, is in final dress/technical rehearsals for the musical Willy Wonka Jr., featuring the songs by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley that appeared in the 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and which was based in turn on Roald Dahl's children's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
"This is the first in a long time that we've done a show with only students 18 and younger on the MainStage," says Anna Kimmell, who in addition to running the Rep's education program is the production's director and choreographer. Other summer shows involving Rep initiatives have featured students up to and including college age, she explains.
The show will be recognizable if you've seen the 1971 film, Kimmell says, but the Rep production will also feature a lot of uniquely theatrical effects.
"The focus is learning all of the elements involved in putting together a professional show," she explains, including all the technical aspects — sets, props, costumes, lighting, etc. "There are a lot of fantastic elements that have involved a lot of problem-solving by our technical designers."
Kimmell and musical director Mark Binns saw about 150 youngsters try out during "three very full days of auditions," she says.
"I could have cast this show two or three times. The pool of talent here is really remarkable."
The cast comes from all over central Arkansas. Many of them have been taking classes at the Rep; the education program kept going last summer even after the Rep announced in April 2018 that a financial collapse had forced it to suspend operations and cancel the remainder of its MainStage season.
In turn, the presence of more than three dozen young people infuses the building with a more-than-usual and almost palpable energy, Kimmell says. Even the "brats."
"They're all very nice kids, but you'll love to hate them," she says.