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Turlock teen takes on sweet role in Willy Wonka
Turlock resident Leah Bateman is playing the role of Veruca Salt in Playhouse Merced’s production of “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka.” - photo by Photo Contributed
Fourteen year-old Turlock resident Leah Bateman is a brat.
Well, not in real life, but up on the stage.
Bateman is playing Veruca Salt in Playhouse Merced’s production of “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka.” Based on the book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Dahl, and the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” starring Gene Wilder, this musical fantasy tells the familiar tale of chocolate maker Willy Wonka, as he hosts five lucky children on a tour of his world-famous factory.
As the spoiled-rotten Veruca Salt, Bateman is relishing her role as a temper-tantrum throwing pint-sized tyrant.
“It’s been a fun experience,” Bateman said. “Our director [Joe Hypes] calls us collectively ‘the brats’ and Veruca is the brattiest of them all. She gets whatever she wants. I keep telling my parents I want everything, to get in character, but it hasn’t really worked for me.”
Bateman’s involvement in the play came about through a last-minute decision. The day before the auditions were set to happen was the first Bateman and her family heard about the talent call and decided on a whim to try-out.
Bateman comes from a large family where everyone is involved in music and theater. All of her eight siblings, along with herself, play the violin and some have taken up dance, piano, vocals, and acting.
It was a family connection that first led to Bateman catching the acting bug. One of her brothers was playing the violin in a production of “Hansel and Gretel” and they needed children for a little song and dance number. Bateman was one of the ones selected. From there, she’s gone on to numerous roles, including the lead role of Helen Keller in Sierra Repertory Theatre’s production of “The Miracle Worker.”
“It’s fun to pretend I’m someone else,” Bateman said. “It doesn’t feel like I am acting. It feels like I am that person. It’s a really cool feeling.”
Bateman is hoping to expand her acting into commercials and films and has recently signed with two agents.
“I know it’s a really tough business, but it’s something I’d like to pursue and I’m lucky to have the support of my family behind me.”
The Playhouse Merced production of “Willy Wonka” features a cast of more than 20 singers and dancers and is led by Merced resident Joel Shade in the title role. “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka” features musical numbers like “Pure Imagination,” “The Candy Man,” and “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” plus many others.
The show runs through Dec. 20. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Ticket prices are: $20 adults; $17 seniors; $10 students; and $8 children. Purchase tickets by calling 725-8587, or stopping in the box office at 452 West Main St. in downtown Merced.  
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.