WATCH | ‘Willy Wonka KIDS’: HS Main Street perform musical starting Tuesday

Cast members of "Willy Wonka KIDS" perform during dress rehearsal Friday morning at Hot Springs Main Street Visual & Performing Arts Magnet School. (The Sentinel-Record/Donald Cross)

Nearly 300 students in kindergarten through sixth grade at Main Street Visual & Performing Arts Magnet School will perform "Willy Wonka KIDS" on Tuesday and Thursday at the school, with showings at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day.

Based on the 1971 feature film "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," the production follows the enigmatic candy manufacturer Willy Wonka and his golden ticket contest, with such songs as "The Candy Man," "I've Got a Golden Ticket," "Pure Imagination," "Oompa-Loompa-Doompa-De-Do," and "I Want it Now!"

"We have added some fun features," MVPA's theater teacher and director, Roxanna Kirchhoff, said. "We added a squirrel dance feature, which is very cute. But the production itself is based off of the original film, so it follows the same storyline. And it's really wonderful and magical."

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Although Charlie, played by MVPA fifth grader O'Neal Hardage, comes from a poor background and is a sort of "long shot" in the play, Wonka ultimately chooses him to take over his factory.

"He's a very sweet boy, loving, and he's respectful to elderly people and very nice," Hardage said. "And because I was sweet and kind while I was in the chocolate factory, Mr. Wonka gave the chocolate factory to me."

Kirchhoff calls Hardage a naturally talented and gifted student, with both a beautiful voice and beautiful acting skills.

"I love that he takes direction very well too," she said. "I'm watching him grow and I'm very excited and I'm thankful I get one more year (with him). I'm looking forward to seeing the growth."

With such a large cast, MVPA dance teacher Katie James said students are involved in everything from backstage makeup, singing, to running the lights. While last school year's show was in May, this year's cast and crew have been working on a much tighter schedule, practicing three days a week.

Taylin Cunningham is a sixth grade student who plays Willy Wonka. He said he loved how organized Kirchhoff has made the process, noting that when they were doing tryouts at the beginning of the school year, she set up a Google Classroom to help them learn their lines and songs better which gave him more confidence.

"I feel like my character's very about, 'Well, I'm trying to find the perfect person.' I'm very... I feel like I'm a little bipolar, because I have a lot of emotions at the same time. I can be very sarcastic and very straightforward. That's basically my character," he said.

"I love how we did work on song from song, because then we could add it all together and just run through the show, and I felt more confident and natural to the show," he said.

MVPA fifth grader Ny'la Samuels plays the part of Veruca Salt. She said learning the part was a little tough because she has never had a leading role, plus her personality does not fit that of the character's.

"I'm a nice girl, but my character is a rich kid who wants everything her way and she is a spoiled kid," she said. "So her dad made his factory sell wrappers of Wonka Bars so I could get a golden ticket."

Kirchhoff said it was a stretch for her playing such a mean role, but she handled it very well.

"This is my first year getting Taylin, but he's so naturally gifted and talented, and I'm so glad that he joined us. And Ny'la as well. I'm just watching her grow and blossom as an actress. I mean, she is really killing it. And the vocals, her singing is sensational. She's a triple threat for sure," she said.

Sixth grade student Brailyn Hughes plays the part of Grandpa Joe, Charlie's grandfather.

"I'm like this old man who's always wanted to go like to the Willy Wonka Factory," he said. "That's why Taylin picked me. I'm very nice and funny. I like singing. And I have this very cramped up back and I really care about Charlie and I want to make sure he gets all his stuff."

Kirchhoff said she is proud of how Hughes has grown as an actor, noting she has watched him grow into a "really responsible, charismatic actor."

Tickets are free to the performance and concessions and school T-shirts will be available for purchase. Light wands will also be available for purchase for the audience-interactive portion of the show.

  photo  "Willy Wonka KIDS" cast members prepare for this week's performance at Hot Springs Main Street Visual & Performing Arts Magnet School. (The Sentinel-Record/Donald Cross)
  photo  Gum balls and other types of candy are pictured inside the lobby of Hot Springs Main Street Visual & Performing Arts Magnet School on Friday. (The Sentinel-Record/Donald Cross)