Perhaps Roald Dahl knew morals and lessons would be easier to swallow if they came sugar-coated.

The British novelist, who wrote the 1964 novel "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," didn't approve of the 1971 film "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," which was based on his book and starred Gene Wilder in the title role. And chances are good he would have given the side eye to Johnny Depp's turn as the candy man in director Tim Burton's 2005 movie "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," had he still been alive when it was released. But maybe the author would have taken a shine to the 2004 musical "Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka," a blend of his book and the original film.

Sunrise Players will mount the production Thursday through Sunday at Sunrise Church. The cast consists of church members and community actors.

Director Kim Castellanet subscribes to Dahl's cheeky morals of the story.

"It really is a cutting commentary on lazy or neglectful parenting," she said. "I like it when people choose to have kiddos and invest in them, because they're our best investment and a great legacy."

In the musical version of Dahl's classic tale, Wonka announces he's retiring and seeking a successor to his candy kingdom. He's hidden a golden ticket in five of his famous chocolate candy bars, entitling the finder to a free tour of his factory and a lifetime supply of candy. Young Charlie Bucket finds a ticket at the last minute and asks his grandfather to accompany him.

They join four other obnoxious and horribly behaved kids and their equally awful parents on a trip through candy land. One by one, the children and parents are plucked off due to bad behavior, leaving only Charlie and his grandfather at the end.

"Everybody wants to see Charlie do well," Castellanet said. "The punchline for Willy, and one of his closing lines, is 'Charlie broke a rule.' Wonka set them up to fail, but Charlie broke a rule. He didn't get caught, but he confessed at the end, which made him trustworthy. It made him become heir to the factory. So the lessons are redemption, honesty, loyalty."

Alex Baker, who works at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, will star in the Wonka role.

"The way the role is written, it reads more Depp but there is some essence of Wilder," Baker said. "I took inspiration from both. Willy Wonka is sassy and I don't think a lot of people get that when they first see it. I threw in a little bit of RuPaul (a drag queen) as well."

And any fan of Wonka land can't forget the Oompa Loompas, the bright orange, white-eyebrowed factory workers who stoically sing and dance. In Castellanet's version, they'll be played by nine girls ages 13 to 17 wearing steampunk-style costumes.

"My thought was a little more contemporary, so more like factory workers that break out into a more contemporary style of dance," she said. "They're not super friendly; they're straightforward. But they're adorable."


A&E and features reporter

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