HAZARD — The Perry County Central Commodore Players are set to perform “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in early December. The play was in pre-production for several years and it boasts the largest cast The Players have assembled.
Director Phil Neace said he chose to do the play three years ago. Neace likes to plan plays several seasons ahead.
“‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ was probably my favorite film when I was growing up, period. I knew sooner or later I had to do it,” said Neace.
The play was written by Richard George. It was one of the rare plays that Roald Dahl, writer of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” novel, gave a seal of approval to.
Sadly, Gene Wilder, the actor who played Willy Wonka in the movie adaptation, passed away when the play was still in pre-production. The Players are dedicating the play in Wilder’s honor.
The Players held auditions for two days and Neace said the parts were cast fairly quickly. With 55 cast members, Neace said this play is the largest amount of cast members The Players have assembled.
Several newcomers t0 the drama club were cast in the play. The leading role of Charlie is played by Ronald Childers. Childers is a freshman at PCHS and this is his first time having a lead role in a play. He has previously performed minor roles at Jenny Wiley Theatre, but nothing of this magnitude.
Childers, a freshman at PCHS, said his love of plays started when he was young. When he arrived at PCHS, Childers knew he wanted to be a part of the drama company.
“I’ve always loved doing plays. I came in and auditioned for as many roles as I could,” said Childers.
This role will be Childer’s biggest role to date. Childers said he is both nervous and excited about performing in front of a large audience.
Austin Burgett, a veteran of The Players, plays Willy Wonka. Burgett said performing this role was a dream come true for him.
Burgett’s grandmother showed him the movie adaption of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” when he was a younger. The movie adaption would become one of his favorite movies.
Since that first showing, Burgett said it has become a tradition to watch the movie every time he visits his grandmother.
“For me to actually be Willy Wonka, it is a dream come true,” said Burgett.
Burgett said while no one could compare to Wilder’s performance, he wanted to play Willy Wonka in his own way.
“I play it like, he is the chocolate maker. He wants the world to see his creations, but he is very untrusting of everyone,” said Burgett.
Burgett said Willy Wonka can tell whether a person is good or bad. He said he plays Willy Wonka as a person who treats bad people and good people accordingly.
“We’ve brought in a diverse group of students for this play,” Neace said.
Some of the squirrels are even played by middle school students.
The props the actors use are made entirely by the student body.
“I’m proud of that,” said Neace.
The play has multiple sets The Players, which Neace says is different from other drama companies. He said most drama companies use just one set, but The Players use several different sets for the play.
The play runs under 90 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission.
Something different The Players are doing with this play, they will selling unique candy during a bake sale on opening night.
Neace said donations for the bake sale are welcomed.
During the play, a candy cart will roll down the aisle and offer free candy to the children in the audience.
Opening night of the play will be Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. in the Perry County Central High School auditorium. The play will also be performed on Dec. 2-3 at 7 p.m.
A special Sunday matinee will be performed on Dec. 4 at 2 p.m.
For more detailed information on the performances, please check out The Players Facebook page under The Perry County Central Commodore Players.
TJ Caudill is a reporter with The Hazard Herald and he can be reached at 606-629-3245.