The Westerville North High School Theatre Department will invite audiences to a world of pure imagination this weekend, as it presents Willy Wonka at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27-March 2.
The show features a cast of 63 people, including 24 "oompa loompas" from 14 Westerville City Schools elementary schools.
"It's very much an ensemble cast," said Director Kim Mollohan.
The full stage version being presented by North is based heavily on the Roald Dahl books, Mollohan said. It features all of the well-loved songs from the 1971 movie version, with a slew of original songs.
Mollohan, who said she's loved the Willy Wonka books since a teacher purchased Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for her after she won a third-grade reading contest, said the play perfectly captures Wonka's spirit as written by Dahl.
"He may be a little eccentric, but he has a caring and giving spirit," she said. "You see that in this version."
The show's cast said audiences are bound to enjoy the production.
"It's a fun, silly musical," said junior Dalton Reyburn, who plays Grandpa Joe.
"But it's really sweet, too," added senior Faith Dreisbach, who plays Mrs. Bucket.
Junior Ryan Watson, who plays Grandpa George, sums up the plot more simply.
"The first act is like an emotional roller coaster," Watson said. "The second act is a tour through the chocolate factory."
Junior Kevin Vestal, who plays Willy Wonka, said the play has been difficult to take on, because so many people are familiar with the movie portrayals of the title character.
Vestal said he read the book four times over winter break, searching for different dimensions to the character each time.
"It's one of the most difficult roles I've had because it's very complex," Vestal said.
He said he's sure audiences will enjoy spending time with familiar characters and elaborate sets.
"The kids are great. You love to hate them, but you can see yourself in them, too," Vestal said of Veruca Salt, Mike Teevee, Violet Beauregarde and Augustus Gloop. "Just wait until you see the chocolate factory."
Besides, Mollohan said, the play offers a significant novelty.
"Where else can you go that you'd see dancing chocolate bars?" she asked.
Tickets to the play cost $10 and can be purchased in advance at WestervilleNorth.com.