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"Willy Wonka" Brings Pure Imagination to Carnegie Stage

Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka has been first made the acquaintance of audiences almost 50 years ago. Yup, it first lit up screens in 1971 as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder in the title role.

The story of poor (and eminently worthy) Charlie Bucket (Cade C. Harvey), a Golden Ticket, and a mysterious candy maker (Dean Alan Paige) opens on The Carnegie stage on Jan. 18,  and promises to be as scrumdidilyumptious as ever, with special effects, stage magic, an entire plaza full of candy decorations – and, of course, the Ooompa-Loompas.

“Pure Imagination” is set designer Tyler Gabbard’s favorite song in Willy Wonka and, he says, it’s what it takes to transform the Carnegie’s small stage into a magical, bright-colored  candyland.

Gabbard ended a stint on the Northern Kentucky University theater and dance department staff last season and had moonlighted as a designer for Northern Kentucky theaters including The Carnegie and Commonwealth. He’s now at Pepperdine University’s Center for the Arts in Malibu (where, he says, traffic and mudslides are keeping the location just shy of perfection).

His bit of magic is a very large box that does all manner of fancy things – opening up, revolving, displaying surprising compartments - to keep the action moving  from the street, to Charlie’s home (where he lives with his widowed mother and bedridden grandparents) to the candy factory in a story about a contest.

Golden tickets have been hidden in five of Willy Wonka’s scrumptious candy bars. The winners get a free tour of the Wonka factory, as well as a lifetime supply of candy. And of course that’s just the beginning.

Joining Charlie on the adventure are gluttonous Augustus Gloop (Christian Arias), spoiled Veruca Salt (Gabrielle Tollefson), gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde (Laura Dinn), and television-obsessed Mike Teevee (Liam Sweeney).

Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, Jan 18-28. The Carnegie, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington. 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $30 (plus fees); $23 tudents (plus fees); $18 children 12 and under (plus fees). 859-957-1940 and www.thecarnegie.com.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts