Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Willy Wanker and the Hershey Highway - Reviewed

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Three Wankers (l to r) Gene Wilder, Johnny Depp and Ryan Landry.

For the theatre-goer with a gay sensibility, there has never been a better time to make tracks for Boston, especially in the few weeks before the Berkshires become the destination of choice. Right now, there is more on tap than there has been in years. One production in particular tops that list - Ryan Landry's outrageous Willie Wanker & The Hershey Highway. It is playing at Machine which is located in the basement of 1254 Boylston Street, Boston, in the shadow of Fenway Park.

Landry and his Gold Dust Orphans have been at this for a while, spoofing one classic play or movie after another, stretching back for years. Who can forget The Plexiglass Menagerie or Silent Night of the Lambs? Willie Wanker is, of course based on Ronald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory . Willie Wonka has two screen versions, one of which starred Gene Wilder, the other Johnny Depp.

The story remains relatively intact, though much has changed in the transition from the screen to the miniscule stage at Machine. And it is from this tiny playing space that some real miracles take place. The story, the setting and the five children with their five golden tickets are all there. The forbidden chocolate factory is opened to them, but in addition to entering a world of candy treats they also receive a hefty portion of the bawdy naughtiness that are Landry and company's speciality.

Charlie and Willie (Megan Love and Ryan Landry)

The Gold Dust Orphans create a totally different Willie Wanker. It's one that is the stuff of nightmares, provided that your deep sleep horrors include song and dance, giant bubble butts and robots programmed to assume "the position" for each other. Of course the hero of the adventure is the innocent and pure Charlie Bucket, magnificently played in drag by Megan Love and who everyone in the audience immediately fell in love with. Grandpa Joe is still a kindly gentleman, fortunate to rediscover his sex drive half way through Act II.

Augustus and Mrs. Gloop (Miss Kris and Neil Graham) are brilliantly parodied German Nazis, as are the spoiled and bratty Veruca Salt (Penny Champayne) and her doting parents (the delightful William York and Barbara Lee Ford). They are joined in their adventure into the Candy Factory by potty mouthed Violet Beauregard and her father (Liza Lott and Chris Loftus) and the Teevees, video game freak Mike and his mother (Gene Dante and Olive Another.)

Landry single handedly proves that big things can squeeze into small spaces, and his company of almost two dozen utilized not only the stage and its wings, but created playing spaces to the sides for Charlie's home and the Candy Factory facade. The chorus consisted of Libbie McHugh Pilsch, Naughty Ned, Bananas Foster, JP Licks and Rosalie Norris.

The Cocoa Cuties - sort of a Supremes-style Greek Chorus (we won't go there) - were three of the following four singers: Afrodite, Robin Smith, Claire Philippe and Samantha Brior Jones. They were nothing short of amazing. While no acting resumes were given, the Gold Dust Orphans consist of a core group of regulars, plus fresh new faces who volunteer for each show. Certainly, those of us on Facebook saw many of Ryan's posts for casting help which was surprisingly effective.

Ryan Landry is the major reason to see this show, and as Willie Wanker, he does what some people thought impossible - remains out of sight until the second act, building up the audience's anticipation of his arrival, and of course, saving the best for last. In this show his casting is so good, his technical support so excellent that instead of just him shining, the whole production glows like a jewel. Considering the fact that a company of itinerant actors and artists like this have a tough time trying to raise funds through traditional Cutural Councils, Foundations and Corporations, his company is remarkable for its survival skills.

The Golden Ticket Winners with Willie Wanker

The costumes and sets would be the envy of any Mickey and Judy show, the writing is far more intricate than a Beckett play, and the music easily surpasses that heard on any Clear Channel radio station. Splashy, trashy and possibly even nasty at times, the show never failed to hold the audiences attention. The high kicking, dancing, flag twirling Nazis give the dancing Ku Klux Klan of Jerry Springer: The Opera at SpeakEasy Theatre a run for their money.

There is probably no other show that will give you the laughter, the merriment, the good natured fun of Willie Wanker and leave you feeling totally refreshed and cleansed of all worries. For even the naughty parts are good for you. Walk, skip, jump, fly, swim or hip hop to this magnificent little treat while there are tickets left. Do not dither, debate or delay.

For tickets visit their website: www.golddustorphans.com

It plays for just three more weekends, through May 24, on Friday and Saturday at 8 and Sunday afternoons at 4. It will move on to the Crown and Anchor in Provincetown - with adjustments no doubt - to take up residence on the Cape for the summer. It is the sort of show that can be seen more than once.

Rating: 4 Stars. (Worth A Special Trip)

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