Awe & Wonder: Willy Wonka’s Pure Imagination Takes Center Stage at The Grand Theatre

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Fun is the name of the game with giant squirrels, entertaining Oompa Loompa and a whimsical set for this year’s holiday production at the Grand Theatre in London, Ontario. The Grand is introducing Willy Wonk to a whole new generation to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This magical 2-hour-and-30-minute musical, directed by Jan Alexandra Smith, featuring Mark Uhre as Willy Wonka and Neela Noble as Charlie. Playing on the Grand’s Spriet Stage from November 21st to December 24th, tickets are still available, with weekdays having the best availability.

“Theatre is a place for magic,” exclaims Grand Theatre Artistic Directo, Rachel Peake. “This holiday season I can’t imagine a more enchanting production than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. With a timeless story, sumptuous scenic design, and melodies that will lift your spirits, audiences are in for a truly delightful treat, much like Wonka’s Everlasting Gobstopper—leaving you satisfied for weeks.”

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Mark Uhre as Willy Wonka Charlie & the Chocolate Factory Grand Theatre Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

Willy Wonka, the famous candy maker, has decided to come back and unveil his chocolate factory after years of obsure secrecy—but only to a select few. Five Golden Ticket winners will get a tour of the chocolate factory and the chance of a lifetime: Wonka candy for the rest of their lives.

Charlie Bucket has dreamed about seeing the chocolate factory life their whole lives. With the help of Grandpa Joe, they’ve created tales (and confectionary concoctions) that only a child could imagine. By winning a Golden Ticket, Charlie secures the factory tour with four other winners for the journey through Wonka’s strange and slightly eerie world. There are times you will need to use your imagination but in the end, it’s now what the winners imagine.

If you have never seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), this is the perfect mix between the two (according to a nine year-old attending the performance at the Grand Theatre this weekend). When asked what he liked, he mentioned he had read the original book (in both French and English, his mom chimed in) and saw both movies. I mentioned a new version with Timothée Chalamet as Wonka is coming out December 15th. Well versed in what to expect, this young theatre-goer was delighted with this production. I’m hoping young audiences members come to see this wonderful live performance before the cinema release.

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Neela Noble as Charlie in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory Grand Theatre Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

With a cast of 21 local and national talent, this year’s production is filled with London native actors many of whom have graduated or are still attending Beal Secondary School. A renowned arts high school in downtown London, they continue to produce amazing performers. Here are a few that stand out for me in this production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at The Grand Theatre:

  • The multi-talented Mark Uhre (Willy Wonka) returns to the Grand Theatre after roles in Mary Poppins, The Last Five Years and West Side Story (in the High School Project’s inaugural production 25 years ago). A true professional, his timing, dancing and musical chops are remarkable. Director Jan Alexandra Smith asserted, “There was no one else I wanted as Willy Wonka. After working with him in previous Grand Theatre productions, I knew he was the one I wanted in the lead.”
  • Making her Grand Theatre debut, 15-year-old Neela Noble (Charlie Bucket), a current Beal SS student and Pearson School for the Arts alumna shines with a strong, confident voice and carries the production filled with a sense of wonder. I really enjoyed her performance and hope you can see her in the role of Charlie, don’t miss it!
  • Artist, Performer, and HSP alumna Mikela Marcellin belts out the tunes as ‘Insta influencer’ Violet Beauregard. Also, from Beal SS, she has performed locally but brought her A-game to the stage for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this year. I hope to see more of her in the future.
  • Another stand out is Nicole Norsworthy as the petulant, spoilt Veruca Salt. With a long list of stage, film and TV credits, Norsworthy’s professional experience lights up the stage. With a seasoned voice, great comedic timing and talented dancing, she’s fun to watch.
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Nicole Norsworthy & Salvatore Scozzari in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory at the Grand Theatre Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

Taking the helm as director of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is Grand Theatre perennial favourite, Jan Alexandra Smith. She is surrounded by a talented team of creatives. Once again, the set is wonderful, with designer, Scott Penner bringing in lots of colour and large-scale props (check out the lollipops below). He designed the opulent set for the Grand’s box office-breaking production of Elf – The Musical in 2022. Also noteworthy are the props used to illustrate the demise of the Golden Ticket winners. Amusing effects to make the macabre demise palatable for young audiences. Well done, Cameron Fraser (projection designer), and Magic and Illusions Designer, Skylar Fox.

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Set Design by Scott Penner – Charlie & the Chocolate Factory at the Grand Theatre Photo Credit: Dahlia Katz

Overall this year’s holiday musical is great fun. You will recognize familiar show tunes like The Candy Man and Pure Imagination. It will bring back memories of a 60-year-old book adapted for modern times with references to Instagram, YouTube and plenty of selfies. I am sure this production will sell out so get your tickets ASAP. I loved it so much that I took advantage of the Grand Theatre’s new Pay What You Can offer – Sponsored by Canada Life.

IF YOU GO

When: Nov. 21 to Dec. 24 – Opening night Nov. 24

Price: Single tickets range from $23 – $98 (subject to availability)

Where: The Grand Theatre Spriet stage, Grand Theatre, London, ON

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including a 20-minute intermission.

Relaxed Performance: The Grand Theatre’s inaugural Relaxed Performance will occur at Sunday, December 10th. Highly recommend this option if you are bringing young children.

Open Caption Performance: will be presented on Saturday, December 2nd at 1:00 p.m.

Pay-What-You-Can: Up to 150 patrons can enjoy their golden tickets – at whatever price they are comfortable paying – at the Canada Life Pay-What-You-Can performance on Sunday, November 26th at 1 p.m.  The first 100 tickets went on sale at 12:01 am the day of the performance and sold out within 5 minutes. The remaining 50 will be available one hour before the performance.

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Margarita Ibbott is a travel and lifestyle blogger. She blogs about travel in Canada, the United States and Europe giving practical advice through restaurant, hotel and attraction reviews. She writes for DownshiftingPRO.com and other online media outlets.

4 thoughts on “Awe & Wonder: Willy Wonka’s Pure Imagination Takes Center Stage at The Grand Theatre”

  1. Wow, what a fabulous show ! I concur with Margarita Ibbott ‘s review. Neela Noble , as Charlie did justice with passion and confidence to the character. What a sense of Awe & Wonder, she does carries the production ! With her Talent she will go far ! Do not miss the Show.

    • As a Christmas gift I send my daughter and her roomate to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and she LOVED Neela’s performance. I am so happy she was able to see her! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and watch this space for me Grand Theatre and Stratford Festival reviews.

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