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‘Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’

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    Bruce Gilbert sings the opening number as “Bill the Candyman” during Sing for America’s dress rehearsal of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” KELLEY ANDRADE/TIMES NEWS

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    The cast performs during Sing for America’s dress rehearsal of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.”

Published December 21. 2018 10:57AM


Lehigh Valley’s Sing for America’s Christmas production of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” opened Wednesday at the historic Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe.

The Gilbert family production company, along with 38 cast members, are acting, tapping and singing for more performances through the end of the year.

“We always wanted to do ‘Willy Wonka.’ It’s our dad’s all-time favorite movie,” said co-director and actor Taryn Gilbert.

“We wanted to do it for Christmas because it’s nostalgic and this holiday people reminisce on their own childhood,” she said.

“People can relate to Charlie. All he has is hope, faith and a belief that something good is out there. It’s a good message for the holiday season,” Gilbert said.

“We asked for the rights from Warner Bros. to produce the 1971 movie, and WB gave us the rights, so we thought the opera house was the perfect place for this show,” she said.

Gilbert, the eldest of five siblings — Tasia, Teara, Jewel and Jorne — along with their father, Bruce, will all perform in this year’s production.

Actors from the Lehigh Valley, Poconos, Jim Thorpe and Lehighton, ages 6 to 67, will make up this year’s cast. Nick Helson will play Grandpa Joe, Abraham Pla will play Charlie, Ian Holmes will play Willy Wonka, Cassius Estronza will play Mike Teevee, Payton Brogna will be Veruca, Gabrielle Lanier will play Violet and Cameron Crouthammel will play Augustus in this year’s show.

“The kids are perfect for their roles,” Gilbert said. “They really capture the characters.”

Since the 1971 movie is the blueprint for the play, there are only a handful of musical numbers, leaving the heavy lifting of the show to the child actors’ abilities to convey their characters in a genuine way.

“It relies mostly on dialogue. We had to really focus on the performance with lines and the connections between the characters and the audience. We had to impress upon them the importance of connection on stage. It’s a little more of a challenge, but it paid off,” Gilbert said.

The production and cast took on the large undertaking with very limited time for set design and rehearsal.

“The set design is new for us. It was a lot of trial and error. We wanted to make something creative. Everything has its own flair,” she said.

The opening of the play starts with a monochromatic color scheme of black, white and gray on everything from the set pieces to the actors’ costumes.

“When they get to the ‘Wonka factory,’ it’s all in color. Everyone emerges in color.”

The Gilberts kept the ’70s feel of the movie but opted for soft pastels instead of the bright jewel tones used in the film.

This year Sing for America is hoping to raise $5,000 from the 17-performance run, which will be donated to the families of those serving in the nation’s military.

“People will be able to make personal donations as well,” Gilbert said.

The production began its run Wednesday and will go through Dec. 31 with afternoon and evening shows on most days.

“It’s going to be a spectacle,” Gilbert said.

For tickets, and a complete performance schedule, visit

To learn more about Sing for America, visit


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