The requisite imagination present in Quad City Music Guild's production of Willy Wonka is provided in great part by Bill Marsoun's scenic design. He's come up with some clever visuals to tell the tale of Charlie Bucket - portrayed as female here by Laila Haley - finding a golden ticket and joining four lucky, and bratty, children on a tour of Wonka's Chocolate Factory.
The first is the bed in which Charlie's four grandparents are confined. Marsoun has embellished a wall to look like a bed as though viewed from above, and the grandparents (Steve TouVelle, Jane Schmidt, Steve Trainor, and Heidi Pedersen) stand with their backs to the wall behind material hung to look like they're actually in the bed, under the covers. Marsoun's second imaginative set is, as it should be, the chocolate factory itself. There's a backdrop of whimsically wonky contraptions in a variety of colors, and in front of this, Marsoun places various mechanisms that are changed depending on what candy-making room is required for each scene. My favorite of these is the nut room, which includes an apparatus with a nutcracker's head turned sideways and hinged at the neck; the Oompa Loompas raise and lower this head, like a film clapboard, as they insert nuts to be tested for quality. And Marsoun also uses the Oompa Loompas to create the factory's glass elevator and pink candy boat, with the creatures holding pieces that frame the shape of each of these objects - such as, for the boat, a steamboat whistle and a canopy.
Unfortunately, Marsoun's work as director does not match his efforts as Willy Wonka's scenic designer, which surprises me given the magic he wove for Music Guild's Cinderella three years ago. While the cast is good, they often seem as though they're lacking direction, especially physically. The musical, at times, was uncomfortable to watch during Wednesday's preview performance because the actors themselves oftentimes appeared uncomfortable, seemingly wanting to move but looking as though they felt confined to a single spot.
As choreographer, Beth Marsoun takes a similarly minimalist approach, with several dance numbers looking like she told the cast members, "Walk over here, then walk over there." This is an especially glaring problem in each of the golden-ticket-holders' songs.Marsoun has each child and his or her parent flanking Sara Wegener's Phyllis Trout, a reporter covering the contest, while singing an upbeat piece that introduces their bad habits or attitudes, and it looked as though the actors wanted to dance - the songs certainly call for dancing - but were left standing awkwardly for most of their numbers.
There are other problems. While Zach Hendershott is enjoyable to watch and hear sing, he's too young to play the retiring candy-maker. There's a line included about his chocolate making him look younger, which elicited laughter, but doesn't make up for the unbelievability of a 79-year-old man looking to be about 20. Marsoun also sets the proceedings in modern times rather than keeping it a period piece, and while seeing Mike Teavee (Corey Delathower) also addicted to cell phones and video games is amusing, the time period does not match the script, with its references to five-cent candy and the wood-burning stove used for cooking in the Bucket home.
Additionally, costume designer Cindy Monroe made some missteps, though her ideas aren't bad. For instance, Charlie buys chocolate from a candy man (Tommy Ratkiewicz) dressed in a sweatshirt covered with various kinds of sweets. This concept might have worked, or worked better, if the candy adorned a jacket in a way that would make it look like a sort of uniform, but the sweatshirt just looks sloppy. The Buckets are also wearing clothes that are too nice and clean for a family that can only afford cabbage soup. I do, however, like the Austrian-styled clothing the Gloops wear, and the pleasing eccentricity of Wonka's blue-and-purple-splotched (like a soft-edged camo) overcoat over his light-blue satin vest and bow tie.
While composers Anthony Newley's and Leslie Bricusse's songs are fun and feature some beautiful melodies (some of which are in the 1971 film version of the story), the script adaptation by Timothy Allen McDonald falls a bit flat, with its humor depending too heavily on a seemingly never-ending gag involving the hard-of-hearing grandparents misunderstanding words. Fortunately, many of the actors in Music Guild's Willy Wonka are able to rise above the mediocre material, and the four kids who tour the factory nail their bratty characters' one-dimensional personalities, with Payton Wilson - lending gum-chomping moxie to her Violet Beauregarde - a particular stand-out. Plus, I did like the idea of switching Charlie's gender, as Haley proves strong for the role, given her singing voice and ability to maintain character during her entire time on stage, even while not speaking a word.
Willy Wonka runs at the Prospect Park Auditorium (1584 34th Avenue, Moline) through April 6, and more information and tickets are available by calling (309)762-6610 or visiting QCMusicGuild.com.