Roald Dahl’s CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is on tour and currently playing Juanita K. Hammons Hall February 19-20! This delicious tale blends everyone’s favorite characters from the classic book with songs from the beloved film to create a delectable live full-scale Broadway production. We asked some of the company members about their experience touring with the show – let us introduce you to Claire Leyden!
CLAIRE LEYDEN (Mrs. Bucket) is beyond honored to share this story with you! Tours: The Pirates of Penzance (Mabel). NY/Regional: New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, Heartbeat Opera, College Light Opera, Bristol Valley Theater. TV: Gossip Girl (HBO Max). BA, Williams College. Endless love and gratitude to Mom and Dad, Kathy and Andrea, and Greg—my sunshine. www.ClaireLeyden.com, @claireley.
What was your path to becoming a professional actor?
I was very lucky to grow up around theater and theater people. My parents actually met doing community theater with the Village Light Opera Group in New York City, so you can say it’s in my blood for sure! I actually did my first professional show as a child—I was a part of The American Girls Revue in New York from the time I was 10-12, so I feel a connection to our superstar Charlies as a former kid actor myself. After that, though, I went back to just being a regular middle schooler. I did community and school theater up until I graduated from college, when I finally decided to really go for it as an adult. I’ve never looked back!
What was the audition process like for this show?
My auditions for Roal Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were entirely virtual. For the first round, I sent in a video with some singing, scenes, and even a dance combination (which I had to clear my living room to tape…!) After that, there were two live callbacks over Zoom, where I got to meet all of the creatives and try Mrs. Bucket’s song out in a few different keys. I heard from them a couple days later, and the rest is history!
What’s your favorite part about touring the country with CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY?
It gives me so much joy to bring this sweet and funny show to our audiences all across the country (and internationally!). It’s not lost on me that because of the pandemic, some of the children who are coming to see our show are seeing a theater production for the very first time. It is truly life-affirming to be a part of that experience for so many people, and to give folks what will hopefully become treasured memories of the theater.
What has it been like to return to the stage after a nearly two-year break?
It’s been a dream come true. I think that for a lot of us in the performing arts, the pause afforded by the pandemic helped put in perspective what our goals and priorities are in the business. In hindsight, I’m really grateful to have had the time off to get those things into alignment for myself, and I’m thrilled to still be here doing the thing! I’m coming to this job with a healthier perspective and also just so much joy—I love doing this because it makes me feel the most like myself, and it’s made even sweeter knowing how precious this opportunity is. My heart is so full.
What do you enjoy most about performing in this show every night?
It’s rare as an actor that you get to be part of such a long-running show, and what I enjoy most is seeing how the show has a completely brand new energy every night. A lot of that is thanks to the realities of touring and to our three wonderful and unique Charlies, but I also really love meeting myself where I am every day and allowing my performance to honor that. This is why we do it live every night, instead of putting it on film! No two shows will ever be the same, and we’ve done well over 100 of them so far. It’s such a thrill!
What has the audience reaction been to CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY?
Our audiences have been absolutely FANTASTIC! This show has so much heart and humor, and it’s such a joy to hear our audiences respond so enthusiastically throughout the entire show—it really gives us life up there!! My favorite is walking out of the theater after a show and overhearing folks marvel at all the theater magic that they just saw, debating how it happened, what surprised them, what made them laugh. It must be believed to be seen!
Favorite Wonka candy?
The Wonka Whipple Scrumptious Fudegemallow Delight (of course).
What item can’t you live without while on tour?
My noise-cancelling headphones are a lifesaver for sure. We basically live altogether in hotels and on buses or planes, and so my headphones are crucial to finding a moment of quiet for myself on the road.
If you weren’t an actor, what profession would you pursue?
I would absolutely be a teacher. I tutored students virtually throughout the pandemic and have taught off and on around theater gigs for over 5 years now. So, I guess you could say that I am both an actor AND a teacher, and I love that!
I would love to play Amalia in She Loves Me someday!
Tickets for CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY are available at HammonsHall.com/Charlie, at the Hammons Hall box office, or by calling 417-836-7678. See you there!