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The show must go on in spite of snow

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Weather conditions this spring have greatly interfered with school, sports and other extracurricular activities at Pine River-Backus School, but in spite of some postponed or missed rehearsals, the school’s production of “Willy Wonka” will go forward as scheduled.

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Auditions for the show began at the end of January, and rehearsals started in February. Between then and now, the Pine River-Backus School District has experienced plenty of disruptive snow days, including as recently as Thursday, April 11, when rehearsal was canceled even though opening night loomed Friday, April 19.

“We’ve had a lot of conflicts this year with all the snow and missing rehearsals, so that was kind of a bummer but we’re pulling it together,” said Jennifer Anderson, play director.

Despite these setbacks, Anderson and her cast and crew are working hard to make “Willy Wonka” a special event for their audiences.

“We’ve never done a kids’ show before and something so super family friendly,” Anderson said. “The closest we’ve done to that before was “Annie.” We just want to do something totally fun and light-hearted and just a real feel-good show.”

This year’s theater production marks a slight change in tone from previous years, when productions of “Footloose,” “Cinderella,” “Grease,” “Annie” and others charmed crowds with more dramatic and romantic roles. This year, Anderson and her actors are looking forward to acting ... goofy.

“I’m most excited about when it comes to show time, my role’s a lot more funny than I’ve ever done before. So I’m excited for the laughter and just being funny up there and goofy instead of just a serious character. That’s what I’m excited about,” said junior Carlee Staples, who portrays Ms. Gloop. “It’s a way different role than I’ve ever done. It’s a lot harder than I’m used to. I think it’s a lot more fun than before because I have those challenges now.”

“Willy Wonka is a really eccentric character and I’ve never really run a factory before,” said junior Ryan Sweeny, who plays the purple-clad Willy Wonka.

The cast of “Willy Wonka” is composed mostly of students who are familiar with PR-B theater productions. Though Charlie Bucket, a lead in the play, is being portrayed by seventh-grader Don Owen.

“I would say that 90 percent of my cast this year has acted before. We have a few new ones, and actually our lead playing Charlie is a seventh-grader so this is the first year he was eligible for the play and he got the lead role. That’s a lot of responsibility for a seventh-grader,” Anderson said.

The production is expected to feature creative sets to represent the fantastical chocolate factory, chocolate river and other settings familiar to fans of Wonka, whether he is played by Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp.

“I’m really excited about when we get the candy factory revealed. It’s just really bright and fun and I’m expecting a few oohs and ahhs from the audience from that,” Anderson said.

As another special and topical treat the show will feature a sweet shop open to theater-goers during intermission, complete with a golden ticket contest. When asked what the prize will be, Anderson acted the part of Roald Dahl’s Wonka.

“It’s a secret. It’s a surprise!” she said laughing.

The show opens at 7 p.m. Friday, April 19, and will also run at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 20, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 21, in the Pine River-Backus High School old gym.

Though there are many theatrical versions of “Willy Wonka,” Anderson’s cast will perform the classic version adapted by author Roald Dahl and closest to the Gene Wilder film.

Tickets will be available at the door a half-hour before the show. Proceeds from ticket sales and sale of sweets will go toward purchasing a musical license for the 2013-14 school year, gels for stage lighting and other expenses related to putting on future shows.

“We just try to sustain ourselves for the most part,” Anderson said. “We just really hope a large chunk of the community comes out to support the kids. They’ve been working really, really hard and I just want to make sure that audiences leave here feeling as positive as we do about the show.”

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