Urban Aphrodite's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

By Andrew Chin, April 29, 2014

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It's been a busy few weeks for Urban Aphrodite and there's no letting up, even for the May holiday. From May 1-2, they'll be staging their adaptation of the Gene Wilder classic, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory at the Shanghai Theater Academy. We chat with show director about the production that brings 70s film kitsch to the stage for kids and adults alike. Morning shows have already sold out so get your tickets fast.

So how many people are in the show?
We have a cast of twelve with ten adults and two children playing Charlie, one will play Charlie on alternating days. Each cast member plays four to five roles because in the movie, there are cut scenes that are very fast so I wanted to get a good crew of 10 adult actors. The adults are playing the other children’s roles. It’s pretty exciting. Its a big group of people, it’s the largest team of people we’ve worked with in a show in China.

It’s based on the Gene Wilder movie. Has that previously been staged?
Only by me to my knowledge. I did it in 2004 in Houston. I was doing a summer camp with about 30-40 kids and I never thought there was a possibility to get permission to do the live script on stage, but lo and behold we got permission. It was perfect because everyone had a chance to contribute from the sets to the costumes to the acting - it was a full production company that they created to do the show with some adults mixed in.

How was the reception?
In that time we did two to three performances and it was huge. It was really well received.

How will this production differ from that one?
We want some Chinese elements in there; things that the audience would be familiar with and that’s always important to me to have something to grasp on to that’s local.

Why Willy Wonka?
It is by and large my favorite movie of all time. I don’t know why but it is my go too pick and I think it’s because it’s dark, funny and so stylized in that period. The production we have, the costumes will be as much the same as possible. I just love it.

How did you adapt it to the stage?
Taking a film putting it on stage is kind of an insane endeavor because in a film, you can cut and make things happen that come out of thin air but when you’re doing theater, someone actually has to make things happen in the moment live. There's lots of coordination of set pieces and design pieces to make it work as seamlessly as possible is quite the challenge. But we’re doing it alright.

Who’s playing Wonka? 
John Prakapas (SantaLand Diaries, Betrayal). He’s going to be a fabulous Wonka. He’s already so far ahead in the game and so into it.

What's the set like?
Sigourney Chen designed it and it does have a kitschy feel because it is going to be a kitschy. The production value will be very high but the aesthetic will be very much in line with a low budget film from the 70s. It's a movie musical that we’re doing on stage. A live movie with music. We’re actually bringing over some costumes over from the United States because some of them need to have special technical abilities.

Will there be oompah loompahs?
Yes, and I promise they will be children.

Is it suitable for adult’s and children?
Oh it’s two levels. We do have an evening show. Wonka is kinda sarcastic, the kids are bratty and do naughty things all the time, there’s all this fantastical creatures like the Oompah Loompah and the Golden Geese - and we pulled out all the stops creatively to  make something weird and something accessible for the adults that wouldn’t necessarily permeate the children.

Could you talk about the venue, the Shanghai Theatre Academy
It’s a very reputable theatre school and they have students from all China studying the performing arts and they’ve started the Expats Masters program. So we were lucky to get it. It’s a 288-seat theatre, great for families, easy location with cafes right there. I think there’s even parking, which is ridiculous.

Why should people see Wonka?
You should see Wonka to relive your childhood dreams, renew your hope and faith of doing the right thing at the right time, and come and relax and enjoy some absolute surgically choreographed hilarity.

What did you think of the Johnny Depp version?
Hated it.

Any future children productions?
Yes. I think we’re going off the planet next time. 

// RMB100 (student), RMB200 (adults), RMB500 (family package of 3), May 1: 10am, 2pm and 7pm; May 2: 7.30pm. See Venue Here

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