Largest-ever Rising Stars cast to present ‘Willy Wonka’

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Largest-ever Rising Stars  cast to present ‘Willy Wonka’Pictured: Justin Bal as the incorruptible Charlie and Jason Ertl as the enigmatic Wonka will lead the cast of RMES Rising Stars’ next production. — Photo by Rebecca Neipp


“We are all a great deal luckier than we realize — we usually get what we want, or near enough.” — “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl

For 80-some children who tried out last week for “Willy Wonka Junior” — a musical version of Dahl’s literary classic — this sentiment turned out to be true.

“We are always so impressed by the quality of talent and the obvious preparation we see when children audition for a show that we always want to find a way to use as many as possible,” said Marla Cosner, director of the upcoming Ridgecrest Musical Enrichment Society production.

So this year, Cosner took advantage of the larger performance venue available to nearly double the cast size called for in the production.

Jason Ertl will portray the whimsical title character, who leads five children — Justin Bal as Charlie Bucket, Gabriel Honeywell as Augustus Gloop, Joe Cannon as Mike Teavee, Tabitha Goodman as Violet Beauregarde and Rachel Wetzel as Veruca Salt — on an exclusive tour of his candy factory.

Through colorful costumes and lively song-and-dance numbers, the cast will demonstrate the familiar cautionary tales each of these children inspire as on Wonka’s quest to find a kindred spirit.

Parents of these lucky winners will be played by Alexander Vargas (Mr. Bucket), Annalise Ostash (Mrs. Bucket), Sophia Montenegro (Mrs. Gloop), Lila Benckendorf (Ms. Teavee), Laura Dickey (Mrs. Beauregarde) and Gavyn Dickey (Mr. Salt).

Kevin Anderson as Grandpa Joe leads a quartet of grandparents, including Natalie Bravo (Josephina), Deanna Belt (Georgina) and Peter Neipp (George).

Additional supporting leads include Geoffrey Brown, Mallory Cosner, Naomi Meech and Nathan Neipp will play various members of the media and Everett Dickey, Alli Garcia, Genevieve Welsh and Rebekah Dickey will be town children.

(For a complete cast list, including ensembles for the Oompa Loopas, Candy Man Kids and Cooks and Squirrels, visit

Performances will be held March 22, 23 and 24 at the Parker Performing Arts Center, Burroughs High School.

Each production will open with a gala concert, featuring select cast members performing favorite Disney and Broadway songs (alternate cast each night — see for complete listing).

While Cosner acknowledged that her team and cast are committed to delivering the quality of performance RMES audiences have become accustomed to, she added that a critical part of the “Rising Stars” mission is to offer school-aged children opportunities to perform.

Now an accomplished musician and an award-winning teacher, Cosner recalled the abundant outlets for performing arts offered to youngsters growing up a generation ago in the Indian Wells Valley. Fast forward to today — community theater groups have scaled down productions, Missoula Children’s Theater crossed IWV off its tour and even school drama clubs have been hit by funding losses.

Almost a decade ago, Cosner was one of the eight founding members of RMES. The local alums decided to join forces to keep the arts alive in the community by staging popular musicals and revues — while raising upwards of $150,000 to local music education.

A few years ago, Cosner launched “Rising Stars” to focus on the youth in the community, and has since presented favorites such as “Aristocats” and “Aladdin” to sold-out houses.

“Having the experiences I did in the local music and theater scene played such an important role in my childhood. I want to make sure this next generation of children growing up here has that same chance,” said Cosner.

She also thanked the volunteers who remain committed to making sure these opportunities are available, and the community that continues to support the shows.

“Our audience actually helped choose this show,” said Cosner. “Last year we asked the audience to pick what they wanted to see next, and ‘Willy Wonka’ won by a landslide.”

Watch for updates in the News Review as opening weekend draws near!

Story First Published: 2018-01-19