A Wacky and Wonderful Willy Wonka and The Weed Factory

Theatre Review by Alisa Hayashida, Fremont Centre Theatre

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Photo courtesy of Welland Productions: Weslie Lechner as Mrs. Mayor and Jim Marsillo as The Candy Man in Willy Wonka and the Weed Factory now on stage at Fremont Centre Theatre.

This delightful and delicious satire of Willy Wonka serves up an evening full of laughs with a dose of edification. We meet an elderly woman with a bit of dementia who is being read a true story from the past. Way back in 2025, when cannabis became legal in America, people were afraid after so many years of believing that cannabis was “the devil’s lettuce” that would lead to chaos and crime. This is the scene we “go back to” in a small, middle American town where the local pharmacist or “Candy Man” is “making the world taste good” with his pharmaceuticals. The townsfolk trust and depend on their Candy Man, who is far from pleased with the arrival of Willy Wonka and his new weed factory.

And so begins the ride created by writers Weslie Lechner and Brittany Belland, that takes you on a very funny journey as we meet the various townsfolk who win Golden Spliffins to tour the new factory, a dimly lit Mayor, Hempa Lempas and a Hemp sniffing dog. Just about every song is somehow familiar but infused with hemp puns and humor that is at once hysterical and, in some instances, pretty educational. Unless you are a cannabis activist, then I would venture to guess that most of us have much to learn about not only the history of the plant but also of its myriad uses. It’s something we simply don’t talk about or learn about and it’s fascinating to find out how that came to be.

Belland also plays Charlotte Bucket, the straight-laced fiancé of the Candy Man and grand-daughter of Grandpa Joe. Belland imbues Charlotte with a sincerity and vulnerability that allows us to go on this road of discovery with her. She also has terrific chemistry with a disarmingly charming Patrick Boyland as Willy Wonka, who makes it easy to understand why Charlotte is so intrigued by him. Lechner is absolutely hilarious as the Mayor who doesn’t seem to have a clue other than doing what is politically expedient. Her physical comedy is a highlight throughout the show.

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Ben Wickman is spot on as the town stoner while Alexandria McCale is perfectly perfect as the annoying “I want it now” character of Ursula Pepper. Jim Marsillo gives the Candy Man just the right amount of charm and sleeze with Hannah Pearlman giving a sweet earnestness to the greenest citizen, Verde Tarocard. Jaqueline Besson is all jaded, new romantic teenager, Mick Teabee and Brock McKenzie turns in a comedic gem while dancing a jig as Grandpa Joe anticipating getting high “one last time”.

The cast is rounded out by Jodie Skeris in a poignant performance as the old woman, Adam Wasser who is touching as the old man, Alex Stegmaier as the kindly orderly and Alexander Paul as a very funny and “talented” dog.

In the end, both Wonka and the townspeople come to see things from a new perspective and have made some unexpected discoveries and new friendships along the way. I suspect the audience has done the same.

If you’d like to get your “Golden Spliffen” and see what it’s all about, the show continues through Monday with performances Friday July 21 8pm, Saturday July 22 8pm, Sunday matinee July 23 3pm (asl/deaf friendly performance) and closes Monday July 24 8pm. Fremont Centre Theater, 1000 Fremont Ave. South Pasadena.Tickets on sale at https://www.wellandproductions.com/tickets $25. Written by Brittany Belland and Weslie Lechter, Music by Patrick Boylan, Directed by Weslie Lechter. Graphic design by Stephen Nachreiner.

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