Profile: Pioneer’s Mia Galbraith gives Willy Wonka a “crazy genius” sweet tooth

By Terry Jacoby/

Mia Galbraith calls playing Willy Wonka in Pioneer Theatre Guild’s production of Roald Dahl’s “Willy Wonka” an “honor.”

“When the cast list came out I was just stunned,” says Galbraith, a senior at Pioneer. “Playing this role will definitely be a highlight of my high school performances. I researched the show when it was first announced, and watched many different versions. That really helped me even just for auditions to figure out my version of Willy Wonka.”

Dahl had serious reservations about Gene Wilder’s performance as Wonka, which he thought “pretentious” and insufficiently “bouncy.” Dahl, who had wanted either Spike Milligan or Peter Sellers to play the part instead, saw Wonka as very “British eccentric.”

What would Dahl have thought of a female playing a very British eccentric?

Galbraith doesn’t agree with the famous writer’s opinion of Wilder.

“Gene Wilder will always be my favorite performance of Willy Wonka,” she says. “He is so brilliant and him improving things like the somersault at the beginning really just exemplify how unique and brilliant he was.”

But don’t expect a female Gene Wilder when you see PTG’s production. Instead, expect Mia Galbraith’s version.

“I have pulled many traits from his performance, but I still make it my own,” she says. “Also in this day and age it is easy to watch other high school performances of Willy Wonka, and seeing so many examples has helped me experiment and find my character.”

And what is Mia’s Willy Wonka like?

“My Willy Wonka is definitely more Gene Wilder then it is Johnny Depp,” she says. “I played around with different characteristics at the beginning, but I settled on the crazy genius version of Willy Wonka. Everything he does is precise and calculated, yet he’s free. I’m really excited to perform.”

It won’t be Galbraith’s first performance. The daughter of Stephen and Michelle Galbraith, Mia’s first PTG performance was her sophomore year with the “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” She played Clopin Trouillefou, “and that show will always be relevant to the development of the world,” she says.

She most recently played Daniela in “In The Heights.”

“That show has been a dream of mine forever,” she says. “Otherwise playing Cassie in “A Chorus Line” was eye opening for me; I had to learn the role in two weeks.”
Developing these often classic characters is 100 percent collaboration with the directors. “The first rehearsal I had with Megumi and Allie was just brainstorming who Willy Wonka could be. I am so thankful they gave me so much time to explore, and they gave me just the right amount of direction with who Willy Wonka is.”

And rehearsals have been “awesome.”

“The entire directing team is fun to work with,” she says. “The show is coming together so well, and it’s exciting to see all the opportunities popping up in rehearsals. For me a challenge is sheer memorization. The sequencing and number of scenes in this show are crazy! Luckily, I’ve had rehearsals where I just run lines, and I have been studying my lines nonstop.”

Galbraith, who has a 3.934 GPA, is the vice president of both the International Thespian Society and the Pioneers to the Rescue. She also is co-A Capella chair of the Choir Council.

She first started performing in the second grade when her mom put Mia and her sister Rhea in a short-story acting camp. They first performed in “Aesop’s Fables!”


Since then she’s done at least two shows a year through Center Stage Productions, Forever After Productions, Horizon Performing Arts, and Pioneer Theatre Guild. “My mom was a dancer when she was young, and my dad has done a handful of shows himself, my whole family loves theatre,” she said

She is currently applying for BFAs and BMs in musical theatre all around the country.

“Musical Theatre has always been a driving force in my life, and I know I need to pursue it professionally,” she said. “Hopefully, I will make it to Broadway and do professional theatre in New York. A goal for me is to also direct or produce professionally in the future. Theatre is one of the driving forces in my life, so I can’t wait to pursue it out of high school.”

But first she must run her chocolate factory.

“I want people to come see the show,” she says. “The cast and crew are brilliant and we can’t wait to show Ann Arbor what we’ve been working on.”

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