Roald Dahl's stories have been a fixture in school libraries and theaters for decades, and Director Pete Benson is bringing one of our favorites, "Willy Wonka Jr.," to the Bainbridge Performing Arts Center this weekend.

Willy Wonka Jr.

Roald Dahl’s stories have been a fixture in school libraries and theaters for decades, and Director Pete Benson is bringing one of our favorites, “Willy Wonka Jr.,” to Bainbridge Performing Arts (BPA).

The young actors transporting us into the sweet magic of the chocolate factory have spent the past few weeks immersed in the story of Willy Wonka’s search to find an heir to his candy kingdom, and many have strong feelings about the movies. “Most of them feel that the first movie has more heart than the second,” Benson explains. “The kids tell me the original is more honest. More authentic.”

And it’s the music of the first movie, along with new songs as well, that we’ll hear from this adaptation of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Benson’s personal favorite, “Cheer Up Charlie,” will be sung by Charlie’s mom and Grandpa Joe. “Charlie has lost all hope, and his mom is trying desperately to lift him up,” says Benson. “ Leila Dugan does an awesome job in bringing it together as Charlie’s mom.”

The hour-long show, with musical direction by Reece Sauvé and choreography by Heather Dawson, has provided a number of opportunities for the performers to interject their own creativity. In fact, they’ve given their Oompa Loompas unique personalities and developed their own sign language. Benson has helped the cast to get inside the minds of the five children touring the factory by delving into the motivations, vices, and major flaws of each.

Benson has a special fondness for Charlie Bucket and the other characters in the play. At 10 years old, he himself filled the role of Charlie at the San Jose Children’s Musical Theater in California. It was only his second performance, but certainly not his last. He was involved in more than 20 musicals over the next 10 years in that area, and his education includes a degree from the Professional Actor’s Conservatory and a BFA in Theater Arts from the California Institute of the Arts.

For nearly two decades, Benson has worked for Matt Groening Productions, specifically designs and creations for “The Simpsons” and “Futurama.” It was just a few summers ago that Benson’s wife encouraged him to get back into theater. For BPA, he has played in “August: Osage County,” as well as filling roles in Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Merry Wives of Windsor” for BPA’s Bard at Bloedel performances, among others. This fall, he’ll be directing “War of the Worlds” on Bainbridge Island, with a script by the late Frank Buxton of EDGE Improv at BPA.

These days, as the Director of Education at BPA, Benson appreciates and enjoys being able to teach young people. “I’m fulfilling my obligation in doing what those did for me.” He’ll be educating youths who take classes through BPA, including monologues and theme work for teens this fall, Macbeth this winter, and two more modern plays in the spring.

Don’t miss a single chance to enjoy one of Bainbridge Island’s leading creative talents, starting with the performances of “Willy Wonka Jr.” running Thursday and Friday @ 7:00 p.m. + Saturday & Sunday @ 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for seniors, students, youth, military, and teachers, or $8.75 each (for families of four or more) @ 206.842.8569 or www.bainbridgeperformingarts.org.

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