By Amanda Soine:

Feb. 20, 2014 marks the 55th season of the Menomonie Theater Guild. In honor of reaching this milestone, the cast and the crew of the MTG are proudly presenting their very own stage adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Dahl’s timeless tale is of a young boy, Charlie Bucket, who discovers a coveted golden ticket inside his Wonka Chocolate bar. This gives him access to the mysterious Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and a tour by the elusive owner, Willy Wonka. The MTG and Executive Director Blaine Halverson want to extend a golden ticket to you for this highly anticipated event.

Menomonie native, Jonathan Hillman, landed the lead role of the sometimes quirky candy connoisseur, Willy Wonka. Hillman got his start with the MTG at a young age and was immediately smitten with theater life. Landing the role of Wonka was not something that Hillman initially wanted.

“I went above and beyond for this one. It’s funny because I decided not to after I did all the prep work, but then I decided to audition for this role on a whim,” Hillman said.

Looking back, Hillman is glad he did audition because all of his prep work is finally paying off. Landing the role of Wonka has allowed him to rediscover his singing talents.

“This is my first musical in 10 years,” he said, “so I have a lot of anxiety about the singing because I am not a singer. But fortunately, I am relearning the art of singing.”

This musical is not the first adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic novel, and it gives the theater freedom to put their own twist on it. Hillman said this play is a closer adaptation to the novel than to the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder as Wonka or the most recent film starring Johnny Depp.

“We have updated some of the pop-culture references,” Hillman added. “We talk about brand names, and it is now Mike Wii instead of Mike TV.”

When doing research for his audition, Hillman used Wilder and Depp for inspiration when creating his own version of Wonka.

“There have been two pretty faithful adaptations, and I think that Wonka is quite sinister. Gene Wilder had a more subtle approach to that whereas Johnny Depp was a little crazier.”

For his own version of Wonka, Hillman decided he would tone down the darkness but still stay true to the personality of Wonka. After investing so much time in this role, Hillman is starting to notice that he and Wonka share some of the same personality traits.

“We are both very quirky and imaginative. I also really love chocolate,” he laughed.

Hillman promises this is a great way to expose children to the wonder and awe of the chocolate factory while at the same time allowing parents to be kids again.

“It is a good play to bring your children to not only for the moral messages but also for the comedic relief,” urges Hillman.

“Willy Wonka” will be playing at the Mabel Tainter Center for the Arts at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 20, 21 and 22 and March 1, as well as at 2 p.m. Feb. 22 and 23 and March 1 and 2. Tickets for opening night are $15 and tickets for all other shows are $20. For more information, visit the Menomonie Theater Guild website:

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