1 June 2023

Damien Leith joins 'incredible' young performers in Wonka at Roo Theatre

| Kellie O'Brien
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On the set of Willy Wonka at Roo Theatre

Josif Jovanovski on set in preparation for his role as Willy Wonka in Roo Theatre’s production of Wonka from this weekend. Photo: Lachlan Whitehead.

Former Australian Idol winner and radio host Damien Leith will perform a cameo in this weekend’s opening of Roo Theatre’s production of Wonka.

Director Jordan Cunningham announced this week he had secured the WAVE FM presenter in the role of The Candy Man after learning one of the cast members wouldn’t be available for the first three shows.

“I’m very excited for our opening weekend to have Damien coming in to play The Candy Man for a couple of shows,” Jordan said of the last-minute addition.

Before singing, Leith’s main passion was acting, having performed in musicals when he was younger.

The Shellharbour production, from 2-17 June, will also include well known Roo Theatre actor Josif Jovanovski as Wonka.

Jordan has taken the Charlie and The Chocolate Factory story and adapted it with permission into his own version, called Wonka.

It tells the story of young Charlie Bucket who dreams of meeting Willy Wonka, the mysterious world-renowned candy maker. When news breaks that his idol is opening the gates of his factory to a lucky few, Charlie is desperate to get his hands on a life-changing golden ticket.

“I loved growing up with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so I wanted to make it how I’ve always perceived it,” he said of the original Gene Wilder version.

“We’re blending the old with the new, so costumes you’ll notice blend in between the old like the original and the new.

“We’ve aged up the original so it’s moved into the 90s, so it’s bringing it into a closer era to where we are.”

Australian Idol winner Damien Leith will be performing a cameo in Wonka.

Former Australian Idol winner Damien Leith will be performing a cameo in the first weekend of Roo Theatre’s production of Wonka.

It includes big, bright colourful sets and projection technology to create the Wonka factory contraptions and an environment that feels lifelike.

The cast is split into two groups and relies heavily on younger children.

“We have many primary aged children and then, for me, I’ve always seen the golden ticket winners as more high schoolers,” he said.

“So we’ve got high schoolers from quite a few local high schools coming in to do the roles of the golden ticket winners.

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“It’s a really incredible experience to see so many young people in a show and have the show resting in their hands, especially the young Charlie.

“I’ve got to give so much credit to George (Griffin) who’s playing Charlie.

“All the golden ticket winners and the Oompa Loompas are absolutely incredible performers.”

Jordan encouraged people to come along and support the local young talent, which included a relatively new production team.

“It’s an entirely new production team with so many amazing performers and it’s a chance to show what the up-and-coming talent is about,” he said.

Wonka will be Jordan’s second directing role, having directed The Neverending Story for Roo Theatre last year.

Wonka director Jordan Cunningham.

Director Jordan Cunningham is ready for opening night of Wonka this Friday. Photo: Lachlan Whitehead.

“I don’t have that name as a director yet, but I do have a lot of experience with Roo,” he said of having performed in numerous productions.

“It’s been amazing to be able to go into a role like this and have that respect already and people helping me and doing everything they can to make sure that this show is what I envisioned at the start.”

Jordan said he was taking lessons he learned from The Neverending Story into Wonka.

“With The Neverending Story, I went straight into going as big as we could and doing as much as we could,” he said.

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“But with this I’ve learned about not jumping straight into the big things but rather building up all the little things.

“All those little things together make that big showstopping moment and that’s what I’ve been focusing more on – those little eye-catching moments where it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s really awesome’, rather than me making the whole thing a spectacle.”

Jordan is supported by Dani Henderson on costume design and Hannah Nguyen on production management.

Roo Theatre is at Addison and Wentworth Streets, Shellharbour Village. Wonka runs from 2-17 June and tickets can be purchased from the Roo Theatre website.

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