In the past 10 or 15 years, I have gushed on and on about how good live theater is in Roanoke with only the occasional nod to children’s theater. That nod has generally been toward Pat Wilhelms’ Roanoke Children’s Theatre with an occasional mention of the program at Mill Mountain Theatre.
Pat was the head of children’s theater at MMT before she was forced out a few years ago and immediately founded RCT, which has been a spectacular success. Since then, the two groups have been friendly rivals (forgive and forget with new leadership at MMT) and have created a force for children, much like the adult counterpart.
Last night’s production of Roald Dahl’s “Willy Wonka Jr.” at MMT is a case in point. The cast was huge (34), giving a lot of local children a chance to learn and to shine. The lead, Kyle Fauber as Willy Wonka, was superb and Mikayla Parker’s Charlie Bucket was solid. But it was in the supporting cast that the promise was great with big-voiced (sometimes overwhelming-voiced) Kennedy Wade stealing a lot of attention, and a group of others showing their training.
As I’ve said a number of times, Roanoke theater is a gift that cities our size don’t normally have in quantity and quality. The bench is deep in all disciplines and children’s theater is not only furnishing a new generation of talent, but it is engendering the art form on a continuing basis.
The audience last night was appreciative, as well and I don’t think it was just loud parents supporting their children. These people have obviously been to productions before and will return.
That is immensely healthy for the art form and it makes me happy.
The show runs through August 6 and tickets are available at www.millmountain.org or by calling 540-342-5740. Tickets are $15-$22.