Downing-Gross Celebrates Diversity through the Magic of Willy Wonka

Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka Live on the Ella Fitzgerald Theatre Stage - February 8-24th, 2018

In September of 2017, the New York Times released an article titled The Real Story Behind Roald Dahl's 'Black Charlie'. The piece references the discarded original draft of his 1964 classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, revealing major changes to the characterization and themes of the book. In the article, it is revealed that the iconic author originally intended for the main character, Charlie Bucket, to be African-American. Michelle Gilliam, Cultural Arts Supervisor of Downing-Gross, allowed this article to inspire her vision for the 2018 DG Mainstage production of Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka.

The cast was chosen based on how well they auditioned - not their race, age, gender, or physical capacities. As a result, the production will have the most inclusive casts to take the Ella Fitzgerald Stage, featuring performers of all ages, races, genders and professions. The cast includes those who serve the Hampton Roads community on a daily basis – from nurses and teachers to a Newport News Councilwoman and a NNPD officer. Also on the cast is a hearing-impaired actor playing an Oompa Loompa, who will be performing the classic songs in American Sign Language. Lastly, both lead characters, Willy Wonka and Charlie Bucket, will be played by African-American ladies, putting a unique spin on this classic tale of pure imagination.

Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka Live on the Ella Fitzgerald Theatre Stage - February 8-24th, 2018 - Tickets: $10.

For tickets or more information on Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka and other events at Downing-Gross, visit or call



About Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center

The Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center is a multi-purpose cultural space in the Southeast community of Newport News, VA. Originally built as the Walter Reed School, the historic building has been restored and open to the public since October 2008. The building is owned and operated by the City of Newport News, Parks, Recreation and Tourism department.

The center houses several event spaces and large/small group gathering rooms available for event rental. The core of the Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center is the Ella Fitzgerald Theater, a 276-seat venue named for the “First Lady of Song.” Other event spaces in the building include the Anderson Johnson Gallery, the Newport News Community Gallery, the L. Marian Poe Meeting Room, the Banquet Room, and the Charles C. Allen Executive Board Room.