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Unionville Theatre Company's Willy Wonka, A Sweet Adventure Indeed!

article and photos by Grant Weaver, 

 (February 16, 2010)   The Unionville Theatre Company presents Willy Wonka from February 19 to 21 at Markham Theatre For Performing Arts and, true to its billing, the show promises to be “a sweet adventure for the whole family”!

          Based on the 1964 novel by British author Roald Dahl, this stage musical tells the exciting adventures of young Charlie Bucket inside the chocolate factory of Willy Wonka, the eccentric candy maker.

 dropped in at UTC’s rehearsal space at Crosby Arena in Unionville on Sunday afternoon, February 14 to meet the cast and artistic team and then headed over to Markham Theatre where the set building crew were also hard at work.

          UTC welcomed a new Director this year in Van Yanez. Born and raised in Mexico City, Van got involved in theatre at an early age, first in performance, then backstage as a costume designer, director and finally founding his own community theatre company. In Mexico, he also directed, choreographed and designed for shows like Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He also studied graphic design in his home country and has now been “a proud Canadian” for ten years. Van works as a freelance costume designer, doing work for theatre, dance and opera companies. He is also currently designing costumes for Curtain Call Players’ fall production of A Chorus Line.

          Van did costume design for Curtain Call Players’ production of Beauty and the Beast three years ago. Carlene Flynn, UTC’s producer at the time, saw the show, loved Van’s work and arranged to borrow some of those costumes for UTC’s production in 2008. The gorgeous costumes for Mrs. Pots, and Babette, were among those designed by Van and which were greatly enjoyed by UTC fans that year.

          This is Van’s first experience directing this number of young actors and he wasn’t sure what to expect. It has turned out to be a great experience.

          “I was very impressed by their professionalism,” he told us. “They were like little actors. They were always on time and ready to be directed, and giving me input about their character.”

          Indeed, this year’s cast includes many young actors who already have a few UTC productions under their belt. But, the company has also attracted many who are in their first production.

          For the six performances of Willy Wonka, two young actors will alternate in the role of Charlie Bucket. When Luke Cummings-Avoledo takes the stage, Charlie will be played as a boy character. Charlie becomes a female character when Tara Chandran steps follow in the lead role. 

          Luke, a ten-year old at Summitview Public School in Stouffville, is in his first production with Unionville Theatre Company although he has already performed in shows staged by the York-Durham Academy of Performing Arts. When he came to UTC’s auditions last fall, he was just hoping to land a part.

          “I was really excited when they called to tell me I had got the part (of Charlie Bucket),” he said.

          Tara Chandran, a twelve year old student at Boxwood Public School in Markham, is in her third show with UTC, having played in Beauty and the Beast in 2008 and last year’s Peter Pan. Like Luke, Tara receives private voice training. Tara’s instructor is none other than David Bertram, who was UTC’s Director for its last three shows. 

          She’s enjoying the experience of her first major role.

          “It has been a lot of work, but it’s coming together,” she said. “It’s really fun.”

          When Luke is playing Charlie, Tara will play as one of the Oompa Loompas, the colourful employees of the chocolate factory.

          As for Willy Wonka, it wasn’t long after Quinton Neufeldt arrived at the auditions that the casting committee knew they had their man.

          Quinton was born in Saskatchewan but grew up in Richmond Hill. Operating his own landscape company by day, Quinton has been involved in choral music for years, with much of that time spent with the Pax Christi Choral and Chamber Choir based in Toronto. He hasn’t been involved in a big stage show since his school days.

          He has always enjoyed Roald Dahl’s story of Willy Wonka and decided to “come out of retirement for this show”.

          “And I’m having a great time with all these kids,” he beamed.

          Quinton’s daughter had wanted to participate in the show but had to decline as she will be leaving soon on a student exchange. Dad, however, nailed a big role! 

          One of my favourite moments while visiting the rehearsal was the performance of the lilting and whimsical “The Candyman” from the 1972 movie version of the story. Accompanied by the Unionville Theatre Company orchestra, the cast's rendition was cheerful and evocative. I remember loving that song when I first heard it and was shocked to think that was thirty-eight years ago!

          I asked Vocal Director Michelyn Wright about the music of Willy Wonka.

          The music is very “eclectic”, she told us. “It’s very cheery, kind of Rogers and Hammerstein.”

          But in addition to music that originated in the 1972 movie, there are new, more modernistic pieces written for the 2005 movie, one of which, for example, produces the effect of someone stuck in a video game.

          For Michelyn, the music presents challenges a little different from some earlier UTC productions.

          “Willy Wonka does not have a lot of chorus,” she explained. “There is a lot of solo work. So you have to make sure to spend time with each of the kids and work with them individually. Then, you have the duets, trios and quartets.”

          The few chorus scenes call mainly upon the younger cast. But, that’s a wonderful opportunity for the kids to benefit from professional vocal coaching, practising techniques like opening up their vowels and cutting off together as a group. 

          Musical accompaniment is provided by the Unionville Theatre Company Orchestra, once again under the calm and steady direction of Doug Manning. Doug has brought together an ensemble composed of some veterans from his Markham Concert Band and some new recruits, young and old. 

          Unionville Theatre Company’s special mandate is to provide an opportunity for young people to learn about and perform in large-scale theatrical productions. Family involvement is a big part of its success and, during our visit, we found this aspect of the company’s identity on prominent display. Having watched the cast rehearse at Crosby Arena, we popped down to check out the set crew at work at Markham Theatre and found among them many parents of the cast, including Tara Chandran’s father Adrian Chandran and Luke Cummings-Avoledo’s father Steve Avoledo.

          When we arrived, the crew was testing out the boat that would navigate the current of the chocolate river, with seven set builders, including set designer Simon Cantrill, embarked while three strong fellows pulled the cable from the opposite wings. That is going to be a great scene!

          Simon has worked on several UTC sets. In last year’s Peter Pan he had a big hand in the pirate ship. As Set Designer this year, he has taken on his biggest challenge.

          Building a set is very much a collaborative effort. Van Yanez provided a vision of what he wanted and the crew worked within the practical restraints to meet the qualities Van was looking for.

          The set was built in one of the exhibition halls at the Markham Fair Grounds over the last six weeks, with a group of from eight to fifteen people working three evenings a week.

          “We had among the volunteers everybody, from people who have never used tools before to people who actually make their living as contractors,” Simon explained. “It is interesting to find the skills of each person and to be able to put their skills to work.”

          But, back to those family connections. After I had watched his daughters Courtney and Sydney Keir rehearsing at Crosby Arena, I met Bill Keir with the set crew at Markham Theatre. Bill is Producer this year. 

          His daughters must get their love and gift for entertaining from their Dad. Bill, a software consultant by day, is a member of a classic rock band called Underrated that has performed at the Unionville Festival for a number of years.

          “It’s a little hobby that keeps me off the streets,” he joked. “Or, in this case, on the streets!” 

          This is his first time producing but he has had “a ton of support” from the board.

          “It’s all about delegating tasks and making sure everybody has got what they need to get things done.”

          The Unionville Theatre Company is very excited to have a new Platinum sponsor this year. The Old Firehall Confectionery on Main Street Unionville has made a generous contribution to the production of Willy Wonka. It was a great fit, a wonderful play performed by a local community theatre, about a candy factory! Some of the cast, in costume, along with members of the crew, recently made a visit to the Old Firehall Confectionery who have designed a special Willy Wonka chocolate bar for show week. 

          UTC is also grateful for the support of sponsors Shell Lumber and CIBC.

          During my visit to UTC this weekend, the cast was rehearsing without costumes. You can get a glimpse of some of the delightful and colourful costumes in the photo that UTC board member Carlene Flynn sent us (see top of article).

          With a Director like Van Yanez, who has such an impressive background in costume design, you can expect that the visual is going to be a key element in the staging of Willy Wonka.

          “The visual is very important,” he told us. “I always believe that the first sense that is affected is sight. So, I put a lot of emphasis on the look of the show, and how that look is going to help to translate the story to the audience.”

          I asked him how this production would be unique.

          “Our concept of the show is contrast, contrast in what is happening in Charlie’s life,” he said. “In the first act, Charlie’s family is very poor. The first act, therefore, is drained of colour, to emphasize the austerity of the times. Their dreams are gone. In the second act, we have the opposite. The Willy Wonka factory is a magical place, where dreams can come true. It’s full of candy. There is a chocolate river across the whole stage. I think that contrast in colour is one element that makes our production inventive, a different production.”

          Costume Designer Clennie Fraser-Mangialardi has enjoyed the experience of working with a Director like Van Yanez and grateful for all that she has learned from him. 

          The first act will feature muted colours to fit the plight of the Bucket family.

          “But the second act is going to be a wow colourwise!” she said.

          In the second act, the main characters arrive at the chocolate factory and the same clothes they were wearing suddenly become bright and vivid. This necessitated making two sets of costumes for these characters. It will also require the actors to do an extremely fast costume change!

          Clennie is grateful to all the volunteers and friends who have contributed their time and talent. 

          “Even my mother-in-law, Kay Mangialardi, who is an octogenarian, came and helped in my sewing room,” she told us. “So, it is really a wonderful community thing, and the people who helped just consider it a gift to the community.”

          After two matinees on Wednesday and Thursday for groups, The Unionville Theatre Company’s Willy Wonka opens for the general public on Friday evening, February 19. There will be an evening show on Saturday, February 20, and matinees on the Saturday, and on Sunday, February 21.

          Tickets can be purchased through the Markham Theatre box office at 905-305-7469. 

          This will be indeed be a sweet time for the whole family. But don’t come with a preconceived idea of what you will see.

          “I like to give the audience the unexpected,” Van said. “So you have to go and see the show!”

Grant Weaver,



Unionville Theatre Company, Complete Cast 
of Willy Wonka (alphabetical)

Brittany Allum                     
Cook/Paparazzi/Oompa Loompa 
Shreya Bhaskar                     
Mrs. Bucket 
Christopher Bjerkan Wade    
Mike TeaVee 
Emily Boden                        
Cook/Reporter/Oompa Loompa 
Mike Boden                         
Candyman/Grandpa Joe 
Sam Boden                          
Mr. Salt 
Jordan Boscariol                  
Red Carpet Fan/Squirrel 
Sabrina Boyle                      
Oompa Loompa 
Tara Chandran                     
Charlie Bucket 
Samantha Chisholm              
Red Carpet Fan/Squirrel 
Steve Cline                           
Mr. Bucket/Security 
Matthew Cote                       
James/Camera Guy/Squirrel 
Luke Cummings-Avoledo     
Charlie Bucket 
Breanne D'Aguiar                 
Red Carpet Fan/Squirrel 
Caitlin D'Aguiar                    
Red Carpet Fan/Squirrel 
Julia Darrah                          
Danny/Oompa Loompa/Cook 
Lyndsay Edwards                 
Mrs. Beauregard 
Melissa Evendon                   Oompa Loompa 
Louise Figliano                     
Red Carpet Fan/Squirrel 
Catherine Gardner                
Grandma Josephine/Reporter 
Isabelle Gartha                      Grandma Georgina/Camera Girl 
Julia Gartha                          
Violet Beauregard 
Christine Gomez                  
Cook/Reporter/Oompa Loompa 
Alexandra Houghton            
Billie/Oompa Loompa 
Robyn Hughes                    
Oompa Crispy/Paparazzi 
Courtney Keir                     
Augustus Gloop 
Sydney Keir                       
Oompa Fizzy/Cook 
Marissa Lane                      
Veruca Salt 
Taylor Joie Marshall            
Ms. TeaVee 
Julia Mason                         
Cook/Paparazzi/Oompa Loompa 
Melissa McConnell              
Red Carpet Fan/Squirrel 
Jessica Moreland                 
Red Carpet Fan/Squirrel 
Quinton Neufeldt                 
Willy Wonka 
Morgan Potter                     
Sophie/Oompa Loompa 
Alexandra Russell               
  Oompa Loompa 
Morgan Schoenith               
Red Carpet Fan/Squirrel 
Samantha Skynner               
Alanna Stewart                    
Mrs. Gloop 
Ganesh Thavarajah              
David Wallis                     
   Phineas Trout 
Cody Weeden                    
Grandpa George/Camera Guy 
Courtney Wilson             
      Maya Chiuahua/Oompa Loompa 
Samantha Yim                    
Cook/Oompa Timbit 

Unionville Theatre Company Orchestra
Conductor: Doug Manning
Flute: Anna Rose, Skye Sweet
Clarinet, Bass Clarinet: Rob Wells
Trumpet: Gord Neill
Horn: Peter Ottensmeyer
Trombone: Ernie Devenyi, Ron Robbins
Tuba: Hugh Wallis
Percussion: Mark Shannon
Violin: Brian So, Shiny Yang
Keyboard: Remi Marchand, Odette Wells
Orchestra Steward: Vic Polsoni


Testing the current on the Chocolate River

For more information about the Unionville Theatre Company visit 

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