BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — In Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” positivity and hard work are rewarded at every turn.
Students in Birchwood Elementary School’s drama club production of the stage adaptation, titled “Willy Wonka,” learned the same lesson in real life as they worked together to perform the classic narrative for their friends and families.
“This is the finest drama club we have ever had,” drama club co-director Jackie Albanese told parents March 26 before the play began. She told the audience, which packed the school’s combination cafeteria and auditorium, how snowstorms canceled the first three practices, but the fourth- and fifth-grade cast members cheerfully gave up recess to make up lost time.
Albanese, a retired teacher from the district, runs the club with fourth-grade teacher Lisa Luyckx.
Together, they choose each year’s play, then guide students from auditions to the final bow.
It’s no easy task harnessing the energy of fourth- and fifth-graders who, just before going onstage opening night, were as hyperactive as if they had been running free in Willy Wonka’s sugary paradise for hours.
Part of their energy was nerves. Simon Stone, a fourth-grader who played the starring role of Charlie Bucket, said he had at least 10 family members lined up in the chairs arranged on the cafeteria floor.
But the other, more effusive part was excitement. Aleesha Choudry, a fourth-grader, played the Candy Man. Before the curtain came up, she was brimming with anticipation for the moment when she would stand in the spotlight.
“One part I’m really excited for is the part where everybody sings ‘Candyman,’ ” she said. “‘Cause you know — I’m the star!”
Fourth-grader Mary Dutcher was ready for her five minutes of fame, too. She said she was most excited to do the oompa-loompa dance with her friends on stage.
Part of the aim of the club, which was inspired by a similar group at one of the Niskayuna middle schools, is to help the students become more self-assured and develop a love for theater.
It certainly seems to be working. Aleesha said she benefited from watching her older counterparts, like Stella Mirkovic, a fifth-grade student who played the title role of Willy Wonka.
“I learned a lot from Stella about her confidence,” Aleesha said.
But as for Stella, she wasn’t feeling ready to move on just yet. She said the middle school students had done a production of “Romeo and Juliet” the year before, a selection that she would not have made.
“I do not want to kiss anyone,” she said emphatically.