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Noah Weisberg plays Willy Wonka in Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at The Bushnell in Hartford.

A Sweet Guy Plays the Quintessential Candyman

Noah Weisberg finds himself in a delicious position. He’s playing Willy Wonka in the tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the stage musical based on Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s novel and the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder and the 2005 movie starring Johnny Depp. The tour plays The Bushnell in Hartford Feb. 19-24.

I ask Weisberg, who plays the ultimate candyman, what his favorite sweet obsession is. He confesses to a deep fondness for Skittles.

I want to know more and continue to quiz him on his candy preferences. Let’s take chocolate: White, milk or dark? “Milk,” he says without missing a beat. M&Ms: plain or peanut? “Plain.” Ah, a purist. Mounds or Almond Joy? “Almond Joy.” Aha, so he does like nuts, after all. Goobers or Raisinets? “Raisinets. I always get them at the movies.” That kind of throws me. Pez or Necco Wafers? “Oh, Pez. Just for the fun of the dispenser.” Hard to argue with toys.

His favorite ice cream flavor? Weisberg is so au courant. “The Tonight Dough. It’s a Ben and Jerry’s flavor inspired by Jimmy Fallon and The Tonight Show. It has a little bit of everything in it but — oh my gosh, it’s so good.” Ingredients? Caramel and chocolate ice creams with chocolate cookie swirls and gobs of chocolate chip cookie dough and peanut butter cookie dough.

One more question. Sugar cone, wafer cone or cup? “No cup! The best part is when you get to the bottom of the cone and you’ve got the perfect ice cream-to-cone ratio. And it has to be just a plain wafer cone. Oddly enough in Chicago we call that the ‘safety’ cone.”

After being on tour with the show for months now, is he sick of sweets?

“I’m not,” he says. “You’d think I would be, but the beauty of it all is that other people get to eat more candy in the show than I do,” he says, laughing wonka-ishly.

So, pass the Skittles.

Good Advice

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Cindy Cheung

Playing a woman who dispenses advice with a 21st-century spin is an empowering experience, according to Cindy Cheung, who plays Sugar, the advice columnist in the play Tiny Beautiful Things. The work is based on the book by Cheryl Strayed (the book and film Wild), adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The show, which played off-Broadway’s Public Theater, gets a fresh production at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre Feb. 13-March 10. 

When Strayed was an advice columnist for a while, she put a lot of her own life into her responses to many of the questions from readers. Cheung says what makes Sugar’s advice special is that it has “compassion and humor and self-revelation that makes her trustworthy.”

The best advice Cheung ever received was from a teacher when she was in grad school. “I was really struggling with life and whether or not I wanted to be an actor and whether or not I really wanted to be alive, and he was able to make me pull back on my life and see it as just this one piece right here. He told me that it would get easier when I was older. He wasn’t trying to make it better right now but he was letting me see the long game.”

Any advice she might give to others? “I have a 5-year-old and I’m sure I give advice all the time. Lately it was, ‘You can do anything you want — but you can’t do it all at once.’ ”

Mother-Son Collaboration

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Linda Eder

It’s kind of extraordinary to think that Linda Eder has just released her 18th recording, an album of mostly Broadway favorites called If You See Me. It didn’t seem that long ago when she was starring in the musical Jekyll & Hyde on Broadway or, for that matter, starring in Claudine Claudel at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre. The music for both was by her then-husband, Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn. 

Eder’s voice continues to be an instrument that thrills on recordings and on concert stages, including the Ridgefield Playhouse, where she will perform Feb. 23.

“We asked the fans on my website what they wanted to hear, and half of the selections were from them,” Eder tells me. The No. 1 request? “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard. “I guess I’m kind of the age of Norma Desmond now, so that felt right to do now,” she says with a laugh.

Eder, who turns 58 this month, says that as she matures she brings something extra to her songs. “As you get older and you live you life, lyrics mean more and more. When I started singing, my voice was a toy and it was a sheer joy to use it. But I didn’t always delve into the lyrics as I could have even though I had an innate ability to interpret a lyric emotionally. But it didn’t always come across. I think I’ve grown a lot in that department over the years.”

Also special on the album is the title song she co-wrote with her son Jake Wildhorn, now 19, who wrote the melody with Eder supplying the words and a bit of arranging. Is he following in his parents’ footsteps?

“He’s out in L.A. now meeting with music people and he’s got interest from people who want to manage him. He is innately born to make music. His style of writing music is pop, but not like teenybopper pop, but very melodic pop. After all, he’s got his daddy’s ability to write a pretty melody and make it emotional.”

And his mother’s musical genes, too. 

A Different Detroit

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Johnny Ramey in Detroit ’67.

Growing up in Fresno, California, in the ’90s, Johnny Ramey’s impressions of Detroit in the ’60s were not as deep as they are now that he is starring in Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit ’67 at Hartford Stage Feb. 14-March 10, following its run last fall at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey.

“Detroit always had a reputation, right?” he says. “A lot of people from the outside think of Detroit as a harsh city that’s been through a lot — low economic status, high crime rate and so forth. But the deeper and deeper I got into it, I started to understand the real world of Detroit of the ’60s — and my character in the play. Detroit was — and is — a city of love. It’s a city of relationships, passion and empathy. 

“It’s a city that owns who they are. They’re proud that they’re from Detroit, and if I can convey [through my character] that love, empathy and pride, then I’m doing my job.”

And of its turbulent times which destroyed much of the city? “Dominique never calls it a ‘riot.’ It was a rebellion against the corrupt police, judicial system and government of Detroit. It’s a major American city but it seems as if it was forgotten by a lot of people. Dominique is helping to give new life to the city.

“The play is a challenging work,” he says. “It’s new and dangerous and beautiful all at the same time and that’s what Dominique brings to all of her shows.”

Have you heard…?

The Band’s Visit, which won 10 Tony Awards last June, including outstanding musical, will be part of the 2019-20 Broadway series for The Bushnell in Hartford. In a way, it’s a return to where it all began. The musical actually got its start as a reading at Hartford Stage — and was even announced for one of its seasons before taking a big detour off-Broadway, then to Broadway.

… A new project by playwright Christopher Shinn will play the Park Avenue Armory’s vast Wade Thompson Drill Hall in New York City late in 2019. The Wethersfield native’s adaptation of Odon von Horvath’s Judgment Day, a project commissioned by the Armory and directed by Richard Jones, will have its premiere Dec. 5 through Jan. 11, 2020.

… Even though the Long Wharf Theatre-Shubert Theatre-Albertus Magnus College consortium did not win in its bid to take over property on College and Crown streets, it’s still seeking a new space in downtown New Haven, including one just off Crown and Temple streets, opposite the Bow Tie Criterion Cinemas.

Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for the Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.

This article appeared in the February 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here. Send us your feedback on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag, or email editor@connecticutmag.com.

Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for The Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.