Special needs actors preparing ‘Willy Wonka’ at Lyons Township High School
LTHS Adult Education Actors with Special Needs rehearse for their upcoming play "Willy Wonka Junior" at Lyons Township High School South Campus. | Michael Jarecki ~ for Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 16, 2012 6:13AM
WESTERN SPRINGS — With shiny green wigs, Oompa Loompas are poised to take over the stage of Lyons Township High School’s Performing Arts Center.
A group of special needs actors is rehearsing “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” for performances at 2 p.m. Nov. 17 and 18 at the south campus, 4900 S. Willow Springs Road in Western Springs.
Tickets are $5 at the door, or available by calling (708) 341-9162 or e-mailing email@example.com. Details are at www.specialneedstheaterlyonstownship.org.
The cast of 26, who range in age from 18 to their 40s, is honing dialogue and dance moves taught in a special needs acting class of LT’s continuing education program. The class draws adults from western suburbs including La Grange, LaGrange Park, Indian Head Park, Darien and Clarendon Hills.
“We’re trying something a little different than a classic musical,” said Christine Rehak-Grohne, directing her 19th production for the group.
Newcomer Doug Toops, 18, of La Grange is starring as Willy Wonka, wearing a purple suit, matching tall top hat and a sparkling green bow tie. Toops is a student in LT’s transition program for students with special needs 18 to 24 years old.
David Deveno, 24, of La Grange co-stars as Charlie Bucket.
“It’s a big role with a lot of lines,” Deveno admitted. “I have the DVD and I practice a lot at home. The dancing is pretty much fun. It’s not really that hard.”
Dialogue recorded on CDs helps actors with difficulty reading learn their lines. In addition, volunteers videotaped dance rehearsals and posted them to a site with limited online access, so dancers can see themselves and work on steps at home, the director explained.
Julie Hein of Clarendon Hills, whose son Josh plays Grandpa Joe, teaches dance and is the group’s choreographer, after teaching special education for 30 years.
“I’m really thrilled with the way the kids are so enthusiastic and they work so hard,” Julie Hein said.
“We have about 10 or 15 Oompa Loompas on stage four times,” she said. “The beginning and ending are the same, but the middle part changes and offers a challenge for those who want more.”
Eye-catching scenery helps bring the musical to life with sets designed by Donna Walker, whose niece, Brayanna LaConte of LaGrange Park plays Charlie’s mom.
“A lot of the pieces have dual purpose with candy on one side and inventions on the other,” Walker said.
“I absolutely fell in love with all these kids, who come up and give me a big hug,” said Walker, who has designed scenery for three years. “It’s changed my life for the better.”