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SHIRLEY -- Lilly Robinson is excited about playing the spoiled little rich girl, Veruca Salt, in the upcoming ShirleyArts! performance of "Willy Wonka Jr."

"I think it's fun because it's really imaginary," she said of playing the role.

The condensed stage version of Roald Dahl's timeless story of the world-famous candy man and his quest to find an heir will hit the stage at the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School auditorium on Friday, July 19, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, July 20, at 2 p.m.

Admission is just $5 at the door, and all proceeds go to support ShirleyArts!, a non-profit visual and performing arts organization that produces musicals, plays, and choral performances for children and adults; offers music, acting, and communication classes; and, sponsors visiting performers for the schools.

The Players

Robinson and her fellow performers have been practicing for the musical for the past two weeks as part of the ShirleyArts! summer program.

"Willy Wonka Jr.," the condensed stage version of Roald Dahl's book, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," features songs from the classic family film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

Robinson said at a recent rehearsal that this is her second ShirleyArts! play. Her first was "The 12 Dancing Princesses." She also has participated in a number of ShirleyArts! choral events, and last winter took a series of ShirleyArts!-sponsored ukulele lessons.

ShirleyArts! Artistic Director Meredith Marcinkewicz is a cyclone of talent and discipline. A force to be reckoned with, she somehow manages to corral 20 children ages 6 to 16 into an organized powerhouse of spectacular talent in fewer than three weeks of rehearsals.

In that short time, the dedicated young thespians from Leominster, Groton, Fitchburg, Shirley, and surrounding towns shine as they sing, dance, act, hit their marks, and become proficient stagehands in a well-put-together production that professional theater companies would envy.

All of the costumes, props, and scenery are made, collected, fitted, painted, and constructed by a small band of parents and other volunteers.

Groton fourth-grader Naomi Rodman, who plays the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde, said that putting on a play "is fun because at the end you get to put it on for people and it makes the people who see it really happy."

Her younger brother Jonah plays Charlie's friend from school James, a cook, and an oompa-loompa.

"My mom signed me up and I thought that it would be really boring," said Jonah. "I didn't want to do it, but when I got here I found out it was really fun."

Justin Cullinan, who will be entering third grade in Shirley this year, plays Mike Teavee and a school kid. This is his first time performing in a play, and his favorite thing about it is working with the props.

Ten-year-old Shirley native Rosalind Lupaczyk, who has performed in other ShirleyArts! productions, said that she likes "getting to be something that you're really not."

In her audition, she said, "I was more going for Charlie, but then when I got the Candy Man and saw how many parts he had, I was surprised."

Sixth-grader Lane Torosian, of Leominster, who won the coveted role of Willy Wonka, has been in many plays, but this is her first ShirleyArts! production.

"I really like the play Willy Wonka because it's really fun and creative," she said. At her audition, she and the other would-be performers were asked to sing the play's finale, as well as the oompa-loompa song.

Torosian is taking voice lessons and will also be attending a summer drama program at Theatre at the Mount in Gardner, she said.

Anna Santoro, who plays Charlie Bucket, has performed in Groton as well as in several other ShirleyArts! productions.

"I learned that if you do plays for the director for a long time, the director gets to know you and you get parts that you want or that the director knows would be good for you," said the fifth-grader from Shirley.

Celia Hagman, who plays Mrs. Beauregarde, also performed in the ShirleyArts! production of "The Fable Factory" last summer. She said that during the school year, she was not sure that she wanted to do another role.

"But I was in Mrs. O'Hara's (third-grade) class and we did Cinderella, and it reminded me how fun it was and I decided to do it again."

When asked how she is fairing with a grueling schedule of three-to four-hour practices each weekday, she said that she is used to working hard because she also does dance and attends drama camp.

She said that her mother plays the CD of the "Willy Wonka" music in the car, which delights her and her younger brother and sister.

This is the second play for Kaatje Stuer, of Groton, who performed in the Florence Roche Elementary School production of "The Jungle Book" with fellow actor Anna Santoro last spring.

She said that she is "really excited" to play Mrs. Teavee, and also to have made a new friend.

"I didn't know Anna that well before," she said. Then Anna told her about "Willy Wonka" and they are not only in their second play together, but also becoming great friends.

Augustus Gloop, aka Haylie D'Orlando, said that the fun part for her is that she gets to "step through cloth" in a scene in which she falls into a river of chocolate.

"The whirlpool sucks you up and you disappear!" she exclaimed.

Her favorite part, however, is her solo, in which she sings about how she eats so much that her mom says that she's "lived in the dining room since I was born."

On hand at rehearsal to help with costumes and elocution lessons were parent Missy Cote and Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School library media coordinator Kathryn Lyon.

Cote's children Benjamin, a seventh-grader at McKay Arts Academy in Fitchburg, and his younger sister Taliah, who attends South Street Elementary School, also have parts in the musical.

If you want to take a fantasy ride into the land of pure imagination, you will not want to miss this delicious musical. It is sure to satisfy everyone's sweet tooth.

For a full list of cast members and more information on ShirleyArts!, visit http://www.shirleyarts.org .