The Joy of Wilder

When actor Gene Wilder passed away last year, the loss hit Chip Joyce hard. It’s not hard to see why. From his breakout performance as Willy Wonka to his collaborations with Peoria’s own Richard Pryor, Wilder was a beloved figure—a comforting presence to so many of us. And for Joyce, he may well have been responsible for launching a lifelong fascination with film and theater.

“When I saw ‘Willy Wonka’ in another movie called Haunted Honeymoon, it made me realize at a young age that the characters onscreen were just actors,” he explains. “He wasn't really ‘Willy Wonka,’ he was actually somebody named ‘Gene Wilder,’ and he was in a lot of movies.”

As a teenager, Joyce portrayed Willy Wonka for the Community Children's Theatre; later in life, he directed the Peoria-area premiere productions of two of Wilder’s best-loved films—The Producers (in 2008) and Young Frankenstein (in 2014) at Eastlight Theatre. “As a performer, there was just something about him that I identified with,” Joyce says. “His sense of humor runs the gamut from very dark to sickeningly sentimental, just like mine. And when he gets frazzled or upset onscreen, it's comedic.

“The same thing happens to me,” he adds with a laugh. “I seem to get angry in a way that people think is funny.”

This summer, Joyce celebrates the impression Wilder left upon him with a brand-new cabaret tribute to the late, great actor. “I felt the need to put something out there as a coping mechanism,” he explains. “The idea is to spark in the audience the same warm, nostalgic feeling I get when I watch a Gene Wilder movie—especially now that he is gone.”

On July 28th and 29th, the Peoria Cabaret Theatre presents Getting Wilder with Chip Joyce!—a three-course dinner and show—in the Broadway Lounge at The Waterhouse. Visit BroadwayPeoria.com for ticket information. a&s

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