'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' the musical brings home Phoenix native to ASU Gammage stage

June 11, 2019

Nathaniel Hackmann plays Mr. Salt in the national tour of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," coming to the ASU Gammage stage for the first time. Hackmann interviewed with PhxStages about his theatrical upbringing, as well as the show's central themes and what magic can come from one night at the chocolate factory.

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" will run Tuesday, June 11, through Sunday, June 16, at ASU Gammage. Buy tickets. Nathaniel Hackmann. Download Full Image

Question: The musical “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is based on Roald Dahl's incredibly popular children's book of the same name, but for someone who hasn't read the book, seen the stage version, or either of the film adaptations, what would you tell them it is about? 

Answer: It’s a morality tale of the dangers of gluttony and the virtues of creativity framed on a young boy’s journey to self-discovery and opportunity. Mix in magic, music and fantastical settings and characters, you’ll see that everyone ends up with their “just desserts.”

Q: I have to imagine you read the book or at least saw the Gene Wilder film when you were growing up. What are some of your earliest memories or recollections of the book or film? 

A: I grew up with the book and the film. All of Roald Dahl’s books were part of my childhood. In fact, when I was in children’s theater, I was an Oompa Loompa myself!

Q: Tell us a little about the character you play in the show, Mr. Salt. 

A: He is a larger-than-life caricature of a Russian oligarch and billionaire. In the giant fur coat and jet-black wig with the white stripe, I feel like the love child of the Count from “Sesame Street” and Pepe LePew from “Looney Tunes.”  

Q: What are some of the main themes or messages in Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?” 

A: Self-belief is key to achieving your dreams. Self-indulgence is dangerous and often destructive.  

Q: What is your favorite moment or song in the show, and why? 

A: I love “Pure Imagination.” It is the true embodiment of the childlike wonder that is central to this play.  

Charlie and the chocolate factory cast

The cast of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory."

Q: Roald Dahl is one of the most popular writers of children's books. Why do you think his stories, including this one, have such a connection to children of all ages?   

A: All of his stories are about children as central characters overcoming unimaginable odds. And the fantastical characters and surroundings are so vivid and intoxicating you can’t help but see them in your mind’s eye. 

Q: You were born in Scottsdale and grew up in the Phoenix area, including going to Northern Arizona University before transferring to the Central Michigan University. Did you appear in any productions in town when you were growing up? Is this your first time appearing back in Phoenix after school and appearing in numerous regional theater productions, on Broadway in “Les Misérables,” and in several national tours? 

A: I did very little theater as a kid, but have been through ASU Gammage with two previous tours: Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” in 2010 and “Les Misérables” in 2012 before going with the latter to Broadway.  

Q: Coming back to Phoenix, after appearing in so many tours and shows, including recently playing Gabey in the “On the Town” production in London with the BBC “Proms,” is a pretty exciting thing. What kinds of emotions do you think you'll experience when you take the ASU Gammage stage? 

A: The building itself is so familiar to me from my childhood. I have spent more time backstage and in the halls than the stage itself, so it’s probably that which holds the most nostalgia. The smell is unlike any other building for me.  

Q: What do you hope audiences will take away from this production? 

A: Don’t stop imagining and reaching for your dreams! 

student worker, ASU Gammage

AWC conference highlights work of state’s most prominent researchers

June 11, 2019

Arizona State University prides itself on an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach to solving some of the world’s most prominent problems.

Led by Joshua LaBaer, the executive director of the Biodesign Institute and center director for the Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, Arizona Wellbeing Commons (AWC) similarly emphasizes the importance of collaboration by bringing together scientists, doctors and other partners to better human health. The key to stimulating these important collaborative efforts is fostering a conversation between these professionals, especially on a regional scale. AWC Grant McFadden, co-host of the event and the director of the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines, and Virotherapy, poses a question following a presentation. Download Full Image

In an effort to accomplish this, AWC hosted a symposium on June 7 with The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix at the Phoenix Biomedical Campus. The symposium invited professors, postdocs, graduate students and trainees from across the state to present on research pertaining to virology, immunology, microbiomes and infectious disease (VIMID), one of the six divisions of AWC.

“AWC brings together different sectors of research and science to interact with each other,” said Grant McFadden, co-host of the event and the director of the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy. “The Wellbeing Commons idea was to come up with different divisions. Part of the idea was to have meetings and interactions within the division. The other part of the idea was intertheme interactions. This is an example of a within-the-theme meeting.”

Paul Boehmer, interim associate dean for research at the UA College of Medicine in Phoenix, was the other symposium co-host.

“Ultimately, all the research we do is geared to bettering human health,” Boehmer said. “It’s a terrific initiative in getting researchers in Arizona together and for us to inspire each other.”

The symposium included three sessions, each followed by rapid-fire poster presentations. Session 1 covered immunology and the host response to infection, Session 2 covered applied microbiome research to enhance health outcomes, and Session 3 covered the tracking of immune responses and viruses. During each session, three to four researchers either from NAU, UA or ASU would present on their research projects. The symposium also hosted a poster session, during which students and researchers from across the state presented their research projects and mingled amongst their peers.

“The concept is to bring people within the state who work in the general area to interact, talk, collaborate, learn from each other’s science. That’s what today is all about,” McFadden said.

Researchers voiced that regional meetings like these are more rare than one would think, but they are a strong source of collaboration within the community.

“Institutions are good at two kinds of meetings — one is a really local one like a seminar series, and they are also really good at international meetings where people from all over the world come,” said Nels Elde, an associate professor and evolutionary geneticist at the University of Utah and keynote speaker at the symposium.

“The big hole here is a regional meeting like this where we take advantage of all the things happening in the neighborhood and then come together in ways that even though we are so close, it’s really rare that it happens. It’s a missing conversation in science — that’s why I think a meeting like this can be very powerful.”

Although these regional meetings offer up plenty of collaborative opportunities, it can be a challenge to generate interest in them. But with over 140 registrants, McFadden noted that since AWC was established two years ago, progress has been made in attracting researchers to events like these.

“They are not easy to do — the natural barrier for scientists is that they are focused on their domain, getting money, and doing their own research,” McFadden said. “Getting people to do this and follow the wider theme takes some work. But I would say so far, we can say we are making headway.”

Ultimately, the symposium aimed to foster potential collaborations among researchers, but it also served to present new perspectives to up-and-coming scientists, particularly on the cultures of different research institutes.

“We all have our own cultures, and to start to mingle those together even locally, you start to compare things in different ways,” Elde said. “For trainees, postdocs and students, it can be very powerful to have those comparison points.”

Progress is born from collaboration, and even well-established researchers can benefit from such exposure.

“What’s really great here is the intermingling of really basic science (like how infectious microbes work) all the way through how we might modulate these interactions or design therapies or interventions,” Elde added. “To have people in the room doing both things — they might seem distinct, but as we bridge those interests, that’s a really powerful opportunity.”

Gabrielle Hirneise

Assistant science writer , Biodesign Institute