As you can imagine, inhabiting the world of Willy Wonka for over a month inspires a lot of imagination and creativity. The show opens Sunday, and tomorrow is our final dress rehearsal. We have been working very hard this tech week to get the brand new opera and production off the ground, and it hasn't always been easy. As you can also imagine, bringing a fantastical Chocolate Factory to life on the opera stage requires a great deal of technical magic, and we've been piecing all that together this week, while trying to bring a rather challenging 20th century score to musical fruition. But in the meantime, I had a little epiphany that was pretty moving.
We had a lot of rehearsals all week, including a "piano dress rehearsal" which was also our last technical rehearsal before we were joined again by the orchestra. The rehearsal itself was 5 hours long, plus we had wig and make-up calls as many as two hours before curtain, so it was quite a long day. Towards the end of the day, almost everybody was tired and cranky, and wondering just how all the technical aspects were going to work. Yes, but HOW is he going to come floating down from the ceiling? How exactly is he going to jump through the television screen? What fantastical projection are we supposed to be reacting to there? We'd all had our hot costumes and our tight wigs on for hours and people were really dragging, including me.
I plopped down on a cube on the stage during one of them many times we were stopped to fix a technical issue, and sitting next to me was Michael Meo, the rather amazing 11 year old kid who is singing the role of Charlie. "How're you holding up?" I asked him. "This is SO COOL!" he answered, his eyes wide. "What's cool? This scene? This rehearsal?" I asked almost incredulously. "This scene! This rehearsal! This whole show!!!" he answered me enthusiastically with a big grin on his face.
And at that moment I remembered why this story is so incredibly powerful and why so many people have been touched by it for all these years - because it expresses beautifully the ability of a child to dream and to imagine. While the rest of us adults were skeptically looking at what was still missing from the rehearsal process, eleven year old Mike was able to imagine the finished product quite easily in his child's mind's eye - and it was COOL! He had been at the rehearsal just as long as the rest of us, but he was still seeing the Chocolate Factory the way Charlie saw it - with a sense of wonder and awe. He was still able to dream, even in the middle of a long, difficult, stressful rehearsal. It was a sort of profound moment of understanding for me about all the things we so easily forget when we become adults. And it also made me realize the service we're going to be able to provide to people when they see the opera - they will be given the rare opportunity to rediscover their own imaginations.
What a brilliant idea the composer, Peter Ash had when he decided to create the roles of all the naughty children for adult opera singers, while juxtaposing the role of Charlie for a boy soprano. At the end of the opera, we bad kids all reappear after having been disposed of in our various scenes, and we sing "We didn't really dream at all, and so we got our just reward, for being greedy, spoiled and bored." We didn't really dream at all - and how often is that true of adults - we lose our abilities to dream and make believe, and we live in a world full of disdain, suspicion, and sarcasm. But "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" allows us all to go back to that moment when anything was possible, when even our wildest dreams had a place to live. It's a gift to be able to inhabit that world again, especially through the eyes of an eleven year old child.
Oh - and I also learned that since chocolate comes from the cacao plant, it is technically a vegetable. So be sure to eat your vegetables!