SOAR Regional Arts takes flight with debut production ‘Willie Wonka’

Ryan Nielson is Willie Wonka, the candy man loved by kids. (Photo by Bruce Strand)


by Bruce Strand, Arts editor

The first production of the new SOAR Regional Arts theater group is under way. “Willie Wonka,” the colorful musical about a beloved chocolateer looking to find an heir, began its run Thursday and Friday at the STMA auditorium, graced by a cast of engaging youngsters anchored by adults with some professional experience.

“It’s an old moral story about how the good get rewarded and the bad get punished,” said director Dr. Mary Cutter. “At least, that’s how we always hope it turns out, don’t we?”

Kristin Rokke (right) as Mrs. Bucket aids goofy grandparents Ron Tolliver, Brynn Rova, Abby Strand, Joe Johnson. (Photo by Bruce Strand)


Ryan Neilson, who’s had pro stage roles in the Twin Cities and has directed in community theater, is a delightful Wonka, holding the story and song-and-dance scenes together.

Ron Tolliver of Maple Grove, a 50-year stage veteran, is a hoot as the grandpa accompanying shy, polite teen Charlie Bucket (ERHS soph Noah Gilbertson), one of five kids in the running to be Wonka’s heir after finding Golden Tickets.

Claire Olson (left) as Augustus and Katie Swartzer as doting mom are tailed by reporter Christine Lenneman. (Photo by Bruce Strand)


The other four, played by Claire Olsen (STMA), Tricia Johnson (MN-Morris), Sydney Segelstrom (Buffalo) and Zachary Tanbormino STMA), are hilariously obnoxious brats, with pushy, doting and equally funny moms in tow, played by Katie Swarter (Buffalo), Madeline Worthington (Elk River eighth-grader), Louise Rau (Maple Grove) and Ashley Budde (STMA theater director).

The four befuddled grandparents sharing one bed (times are tough) and firing off laugh lines are played by Tolliver, Brynn Rova (STMA), Joe Johnson (Mora) and Abby Strand (Rogers). Charlie’s parents are Kristen Rokke (Elk River) and Grant McEachern (Bethel).



At St. Michael-Albertville High School

Friday, July 27, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, July 28, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, July 29, 2 p.m.

Thursday, Aug. 2, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Aug. 3, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Aug. 4, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 5, 2 p.m.

Website  address is and phone number is 612-568-7617.