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Willy Wonka came to Veterans Park

Stevie McClane as Willy Wonka and Matt Carpenter as Charlie with fourth grade Oompa Loompas.

Veterans Park Elementary School was transformed into “Wonka Land” on Nov. 30, as 90 fourth and fifth grade students performed in the classic musical adaptation of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

The production got off to a rocky start with no one to spearhead the play, and it had its ups and downs along the way. “Mr. Michael Alltop stepped up to help out,” said Emily Nossan, PTA co-chair. Mr. Alltop, new to Ridgefield, holds a master of fine arts degree from Syracuse University and has been directing and producing theater for more than 15 years.

“Michael was happy to take on the assignment and submerge himself in the rich tradition of the Veterans Park play, taking on the biggest cast of his career.” Then Hurricane Sandy hit, and we were set back even further.” The play did go on without a hitch, albeit two weeks past the original date.

Ninety children came to practices every morning before school, rotating three acts with separate music rehearsals, under the musical direction of Rob Strom, who has been musically directing the Veterans Park school play for more than 20 years. “Michael was great placing 90 kids in essentially 22 character roles. We had 40 fourth grade Oompa-Loompas and we had to double- and triple-cast the main character roles such as Willy Wonka and Charlie, just to fit everyone into the play,” said Liz Zeiman, PTA co-chair. No child who wanted to participate was left out of the play experience.

Veterans Park has a long-standing tradition in school plays. Each year the experience is opened up to fourth and fifth grade students. The stage at Veterans Park is a one-of-a-kind venue, complete with five separate curtains for visual effect, a lighting cage where overhead lights are controlled, spotlights, and a sound system.

“This is an absolute treasure of a stage. They don’t make them like this anymore,” said Mr. Alltop. Mr. Alltop and Mr. Strom made the experience a theatrical enrichment program in which actors and actresses learned how to move and sing on stage. For the children who wanted to remain behind the scenes, there were 15 stage crew kids who moved sets and curtains and tended to lights and sound. It was an overall theatrical learning experience for all.

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