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Villains and heroes take the stage in Willowcreek Western



Nicole Kunze | Touriddu

The Willowcreek Middle School theater students have been perfecting their Old West drawls for “Wagon Wheels a-Rollin’,” a melodrama with classic Western characters set in the middle-of-nowhere town of Vinegar Bottle. The play runs from Thursday, Jan. 28, through Saturday, Jan. 30, and Monday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m. at the Willowcreek auditorium, 2275 W. 300 North. Tickets must be purchased in advance from the school’s website.

The 38-person cast has been rehearsing since October, adhering to COVID-19 restrictions by wearing masks and staying six feet apart whenever possible. “They are super excited to be able to perform,” said Cali Wilkes, director of “Wagon Wheels a-Rollin’.” Many of the kids didn’t get to do the musical we prepared for at the end of the last school year, and this is the first time they’ve really been on stage since the pandemic started. They’ve willingly followed all the rules and done everything they can to stay healthy and safe.”

The play features a classic hero, Chuck Wagon, and the heroine who loves him, Candy Cane, as well as a villain named Smiling Slade, complete with curled mustache and evil cackle. There’s a bandit in Vinegar Bottle robbing everyone, and when a wagon train breaks down on its way through town, the hunt is on for the bandit. Adding to the shenanigans are suffragettes, a mayoral election, wrongful accusations and even a trial. “There’s a fun energy with this cast. It’s easy to see they’re enjoying themselves,” said Wilkes.

“It really has been healing for all of us to feel a sense of normalcy,” Wilkes said. “We put so much into a production like this and we knew it could get postponed or even canceled. Just like the play, broken wheels happen in life and we have to adjust and move on. They’ve learned that they can still pursue their passion with constraints and challenges.”

The audience will only be at 25% capacity, but Wilkes hopes to have a sellout crowd. “I really want the grit these kids have shown to pay off,” she said.

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