WHHS' ‘Willy Wonka’ set turns trash to treasure
WHHS' ‘Willy Wonka’ set turns trash to treasure
Posted on 03/27/2014
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WEST HAVEN, March 24, 2014 — When they fill West Haven High School’s auditorium this week for “Willy Wonka,” audiences will see set decorations looking like candy, clear bulbs outlining scenery, and giant versions of the iconic Wonka “W” adorning the stage.

But everything is not as it appears. That’s because much of the set—which the public will see for the first time tonight when the show opens—was built with materials that are normally tossed in the garbage or recycling bins.

What look like see-through glass bulbs outlining part of the stage are actually the cut-off bottoms of clear water bottles. One large “W” is made of colorful plastic Easter eggs, while others are covered in painted bottled caps and used K-cups from coffee machines. And the rows of candy? They’re actually additional plastic eggs and pieces of foam.

The set also incorporates tiny green soldier toys, plastic utensils, flooring and fabric samples, Christmas ornaments, tiny drink umbrellas, an old sequin belt and discarded CDs. But from a seat in the audience, you’d never know it, thanks to the way cast-offs are arranged, painted and used in the design. 

“When I asked for certain things, it caused people to think, ‘I bet they can use this or that.’ It triggers the imagination,” said scenery designer T. Sean Maher, who is co-directing the musical with wife Margi Maher.

The West Haven High School Theatre Workshop’s performances of “Willy Wonka” are March 27-29 at 7:30 p.m., with tickets being sold for $12 at the door for adults and $8 for students, children and seniors. A 2 p.m. matinee March 29 is free for all senior citizens.

The “Willy Wonka” musical is based off of Roald Dahl’s classic book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and includes music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley.

Multi-day auditions held in January resulted in a cast of WHHS senior Howard Powell as Wonka , five other students playing the children—junior Thomas Nelson as Charlie, freshman JJ Brentson as Augustus, junior Whitney Bibens as Violet, senior Jenn Wilson as Veruca and freshman Tyler Newkirk as Mike— and 40 others playing parents, other children and the infamous oompa loompas. Numerous others make up the behind-the-scenes crew.

Jess D'Amato, an alumni of the theater program, is the assistant choreographer, WHHS teacher Phyllis Silver is the musical director, Matt Cusmano, another alumni of the workshop, is the technical director, and Peg Maher, T. Sean Maher’s mother and WHHS alumnus, is the costumer. Senior Nicole Woosley is the stage manager, junior Katerina Mazzacane is the assistant stage manger, and sophomore Brianna Hackett is Mazzacane’s assistant.

Although it has always accepted donations of furniture and décor, the theatre workshop is using recycled materials in sets for the first time this year. Maher says he and his wife were inspired by Broadway set designer Donyale Werle, who is known for this unique approach to building scenery.

“I met her at a Broadway teachers’ workshop in Manhattan. It really intrigued me. She had flowers made of G.I. Joes, but you couldn’t tell,” Maher explained.

He developed a list of recycled goods he thought he could use and asked students and parents for donations. But he had no idea how he could transform them until the bags and boxes of junk started coming in.

After letting their imaginations run wild for the past few months, Maher and the rest of the crew are proud of the results.

“We like to sit in the rows of seats of the auditorium, turn on the lights, and look at how the set looks from there,” Maher said. ““We get excited every night about what we’ve created.”

  Contact: Communications Director Susan Misur, 
  203-937-4300 X7114; susan.misur@whschools.org