Q&A: Laguna Beach actress stars in Broadway musical ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’

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The classic story-turned-Broadway musical “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” will bring its memorable music, vibrant characters and weird yet wonderful world to Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts on May 28 for a two-week run. Locals may recognize Sabrina Harper, a Laguna Beach resident, performing as Charlie’s endearing mother Mrs. Bucket.

Backstage SoCal chatted with Harper about her love for musical theater, her Orange County roots, and what makes this touring Broadway musical special.

Where did you grow up? What school did you attend? 

I grew up in Laguna Beach and graduated from Laguna Beach High School, class of 1996. I actually spent my senior year in Germany, studying Classical Ballet at the John Cranko Ballet School; the School of the Stuttgart Ballet. After graduation from the Ballet School I received my first professional contract as a dancer in the Ballet Company at the Volksoper in Vienna, Austria. 

How long have you been involved in theater, and what inspired you to get into this industry?

I have been involved in the performing arts; dance, singing and acting since I was a very young child. I belonged to the Youth Theater Ensemble at the Laguna Playhouse and was very involved in TV and Film growing up. I also danced with Ballet Pacifica, the local Laguna Beach Ballet company and Los Angeles Classical Ballet. I’m not sure if something inspired me to get into the industry, I just remember I loved being in the theater. My mother would work backstage at the Laguna Playhouse and I loved spending time with her there, watching the actors and wanting to be part of that world.  I was very fortunate growing up in Laguna Beach and having the artistic opportunities to dive into it all.

What does it mean to you to perform a Broadway show in your hometown?

It’s always very special to be able to perform again “at home.”  Since I’ve mainly performed in Europe and New York it’s wonderful to bring this caliber of theater closer to home where family and friends can come and watch. The last time I toured through California was with the Broadway musical PIPPIN and that was the first time I performed again at the Segerstrom since I was a child in the San Francisco Ballets “The Nutcracker”, you can imagine what a wonderful feeling this was to be dancing, singing and acting again on that very same stage just 30 years later.  

In what ways is the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” musical unique from the classic film? 

Well let’s start with the obvious parts, its live on stage with singing and dancing! I guess one part that is unique to our production is that all the “child” roles are played by adults except for the role of Charlie in order to show Charlie’s innocence. This is unlike the movie where the children are all played by actual children. Also I find our production is true to staying timeless but we still have moments that are very updated to our time today with the use of technology and the effects it has on our lives.

What are some exciting elements about this theatrical production? (set, choreography, costumes, etc.)

Oooh, I don’t want to share too much because there are so many special and exciting elements. I’m just going to say we have some very spectacular LED walls which make so many different pictures possible, and a very fun and cozy Bucket Shack. Our Oompa Loompas are an exciting creation by Basil Twist and the Jim Henson Company. If you know what happens to Violet then you can only imagine how the costumes add a very spectacular element to the production, and of course the fun choreography from Joshua Bergasse and the artistic vision of our director, Jack O’Brien and his creative team have made this production very special.

Are there any changes or updates to the original story?

We do have a few changes to the original story, as most musical productions today have, but this is mostly due to telling the story in a 2.5 hour time span. If we would add everything from the book or movie we’d probably be sitting in the theater for another few hours. I find our production is a mix between both movies, the classical and the modern film but by still staying true to the book.

What is your favorite scene in the musical? 

My favorite scene in the show is the end of the first act when the whole company is on stage together at the Factory gates, and then the end of the show when Charlie is in the Imagination Room and in the Glass Elevator. These are some beautiful moments in the production.

What part of the musical do you feel generates the most excitement from the audience? 

I feel the most excitement from the audience comes in the second act when Willy Wonka says close your eyes and count to three, just go along and enjoy the beauty that comes before you, and then just you wait till those Oompa Loompas come on stage!

Is there anything else you would like readers to know? 

Come see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and enjoy 2.5 hours of family fun live theatre entertainment! I guarantee the comedy and heart transcends all generations. 

ROALD DAHL’S ‘CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY’

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts – Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: May 28 – June 9, 2019; Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday at 1:00 and 6:30 p.m. The 2:00 p.m. performance on Saturday, June 8, 2019 will include audio description, open captioning and sign-language interpretation.

How much: Start at $29

Online: SCFTA.org

Phone: (714) 556-2787

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