Student cast and personnel from MIA’s “Willy Wonka Jr.” Photos by Barry Gwinn
Prior to the arrival of Performing Arts instructor, Chris Dayett in 2016, this show would never have happened. But then, Marco Island Academy never had an instructor with quite the credentials which Mr. Dayett brought to the job. (See “Chris Dayett Thinking Big,” from the 1/5/18 issue, at coastalbreezenews.com.) It took every bit of Dayett’s drive, experience and expertise to pull this off in a school with just 210 students and no auditorium. “Willy Wonka Jr.” is the junior version of the eponymous Broadway musical “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (2004), which itself was adapted from a successful movie, “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory,” starring Gene Wilder (1971). Dayett first saw the production when it was playing at Drury Lane in London prior to coming here. “Just watching the story come to life as a musical was really inspirational,” Dayett said, “When I was trying to figure out what show would be perfect for [MIA’s] first theatrical performance, Willy Wonka just popped into my head.”
Willy Wonka (Harvey Millar) adjusts his tie. Submitted Photo
It certainly is a whimsical feel good story about a local boy from a decaying Pennsylvania factory town who, with perseverance and faith, makes good against great odds. Sammy Davis Jr.’s 1972 hit, “The Candy Man,” sets the tone for a series of upbeat rollicking songs which follow. The show includes all the songs from the 1971 movie. Dayett has acquired accompaniment tracks from the licensing company. “The students will be singing along to fully scored tracks,” he says. The music will be delivered by a new sound system and the actors illuminated by new lighting equipment. The play is a first (of many it is hoped) for the school and will also be a first for those in attendance who have never seen a play in the round. The audience will surround the actors on three sides as it is presented outdoors on MIA’s centrally located pavilion. It wasn’t originally planned this way. The musical almost didn’t make it off the drawing board.
Student auditions were to be held in early September 2017, with rehearsals to follow. Since MIA has no auditorium of its own, accommodations were found in a local church with a suitable facility and equipment. Then, on September 10, Hurricane Irma devastated the area. The school suffered no major damage, but the church wasn’t so lucky and had to back out. “We not only lost our performance space, but also about three weeks of valuable rehearsal time,” Chris said, “We almost scrapped the idea.” Chris Dayett refused to let go; the students were up for it, as well as MIA’s administration. He began exploring other options. Irma kind of narrowed it down to one. “If we were going to do this, it would have to be ‘in house.’ I began looking at the pavilion. It just screamed ‘performance space’ to me,” Chris said. With the encouragement of some faculty members, Dayett decided to stage Wonka Jr. there, in MIA’s only open space among its cluster of modular classrooms. Auditions were held the week of October 16, and rehearsals began October 23. The performance date was moved back to January. “We were back in the saddle,” Chris said. But now a whole host of additional problems had to be overcome.
Young performers take a break from rehearsal.
Kevin Ray helps build the set.
“A flexible stage, sound system, microphones, light- ing equipment, and tons of costumes were all needed,” Chris said. Led by Principal Melissa Scott, the school stood solidly behind Mr. Dayett in getting what he needed. Some of Scott’s most memorable high school experiences came from her own participation in musicals and show choir. “I support the Performing Arts,” Scott says in a bit of an understatement, “and all the students who love it and thrive within it. I want to be able to offer as many opportunities to our students as I can.” The school is paying for all this through a combination of donations, sponsorships, fundraisers, and ticket sales. They have also set up a gofundme account at www.gofundme.com/willywonkamia. By going to this site, viewers can also watch Mr. Dayett and the kids in a wonderful promotional, produced by Mr. Dayett.
Michael Fabregas (Mr. Salt), Prestley Irvan (Veruca), Caitlin Moyer (Ms. Teavee), Julian Totten (Mike), Joseph Krepel (Augustus Gloop), Harvey Millar (Willy Wonka), Elizabeth Hobbs (Charlie) and Ryan Sullivan (Grandpa Joe) rehearse. Stage Manager Sean White looks on.
Surprisingly, bringing the show “in house” did save some money on the production end as compared to an indoor staging. “By doing a show ‘in-the-round’ (or in our case three sides), we didn’t need an elaborate set with big colorful backdrops or big expensive props,” Chris said, “We all use our imagination. The actors are doing a great job of ‘seeing’ what the various locations we are in look like. And our goal is that the audience members will ‘see’ the same thing as they use their imagination.” To further shave costs, some would-be carpenters on the faculty are building the stage and whatever else is needed. Students painted it, and Dayett does (literally) everything else.
Rehearsals on stage at the MIA pavilion.
As for the “tons of costumes,” Dayett, delegated this job to himself, much of it on his own dime. First, he came up with the design of each costume and then, waiting for coupons, went bargain shopping on eBay, Amazon, thrift stores, and from his own personal collection, looking for outfits that most closely resembled his concepts. His favorite buy was Willy Wonka’s purple jacket, the centerpiece of the play. “[If need be] I was willing to sew one myself or spend the $100-plus to order one,” Dayett said. Browsing through Stein Mart, he found a purple jacket on the clearance rack. “I couldn’t even read the price tag, but managed to get the cashier down to under $6 – with tax.” Dayett has done all necessary alterations himself. He also designed and handmade the costumes for the Oompa Loompas, Willy Wonka’s faithful chocolate factory workers.
Out of the chaos of Hurricane Irma, Dayett has managed to assemble a cast of 22 students, 17 from MIA, one from Marco Island Charter Middle School, and two from Tommie Barfield Elementary. Most come from one of Dayett’s classes in Theatre, Chorus or Speech. Passersby will see those students rehearsing most afternoons after school, and now on weekends as the performance draws nigh. Dayett estimates that some students will have put in roughly 109 hours on this play by January 26, with all rehearsing at least 70 hours. The excitement around MIA’s campus is electric. The devotion of the actors to their director and producer is absolute.
“The entire school is 100% behind the production and can’t wait to see the kids perform,” says Jane Watt, MIA’s board chair, “We are also inviting the city council and Collier County board members to attend. We want everyone to see that even though our facilities are limited, our dreams are big. Someday, we hope to have a stage in [our own] gym where the students can perform.” But in the meantime, she adds, “The show must go on.”
MIA has gone all in on this one. So has Principal Melissa Scott, who is a frequent visitor to rehearsals. For her, the performance will be “a dream become a reality… a precedent set for all to see… a wonderful weekend for the community… laughter, love, spirit, and heart.” And, she adds whimsically, “Maybe a Tony Award for our display case?”