Just about every kid is familiar with the story of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” whether it’s through the classic book by Roald Dahl or at least one of the major motion pictures that starred Johnny Depp and Gene Wilder, respectively.
“I remember at an early age, sitting in the theater and watching the Johnny Depp movie,” said Spartanburg resident Zach Urban. “That movie made a really big impression on me and, after seeing it, I actually wanted to be Willy Wonka when I grew up.”
Urban, now 17 and a senior at Dorman High School, will have the opportunity to appear on stage as Willy Wonka when he stars in the play version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which will be presented this weekend by Spartanburg Youth Theatre. Performances are at 4:30 and 7 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. at the Chapman Cultural Center.
“I think what makes (Willy Wonka) so interesting is that he’s kind of delightfully insane,” Urban said with a laugh.
Willy Wonka, of course, is an eccentric chocolatier who holds a contest in which five lucky children will be allowed inside his famous chocolate factory. The coveted golden tickets are won by Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee and, lastly, Charlie Bucket.
In the show, Charlie learns the true meaning of teamwork, self-confidence and self-esteem.
“What I like about Charlie is that he’s humble and kind, and he cares for other people,” said Corin Thomas, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Dawkins Middle School who is cast in the title role. “That’s really inspiring because he came from nothing. He was poor and stuff, and he thought that dreams don’t come true for someone like him.
“But when he finds the golden ticket, it’s like anything is possible.”
While it’s likely to appeal to fans of the 2005 film, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and the 1971 film, “Willy Wonka,” the play, which was written by an elementary school teacher named Richard R. George, more closely follows Dahl’s original book.
“I think when most people hear ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ they typically think of the Gene Wilder version (from 1971) or the Johnny Depp version (from 2005), and this is a totally different take on it,” said SYT director Adam Sanders. “I’m excited because this is a version that most people haven’t seen.”
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” includes a cast of 32 children in grades 3-12 along with 12 crew members, supporting Spartanburg Youth Theatre’s mission of producing theatre “by youth, for youth.”
“What I love about this production is there’s a lot for the kids (in the audience) to kind of ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ at,” Sanders said. “There are a lot of really cool special effects. The factory’s going to be huge and there’s a chocolate river.”
Jacqwavius Henderson, a 16-year-old student at Spartanburg High School, plays The Narrator.
“It’s an amazing story,” Henderson said. “There’s going to be a few things that are different than what people might expect, but I think you should see it specifically for the changes and our little personal touches that we’ve added to it. It’s going to be a wonderful show.
Parents planning to bring their children to the show are encouraged to visit www.spartanburgyouththetare.com/upcomingproduction to find an educational enrichment guide, which provides activities and discussion pieces for families to enjoy after seeing the performance.