Charlotte’s Web, the beloved children’s book by E.B. White, is an emotionally taut tale that plays well with music by Charles Strause, who’s next musical was Annie. Here, Creative Cauldron has brought it lovingly to life by children, for children, with the same warmth and spirit that has had generations cheering for a runty piglet named Wilbur and his surprising best friend—a literate, kind spider named Charlotte.
One morning over breakfast, Fern (Sophia Manicone) sees her father (Sylvern Groomes Jr.) headed outside, ax in hand, and ask a simple, innocent question: “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” Thus begins Fern’s journey to understanding the circle of life, of which death is an instrumental piece, as she pleads for the runt pig she eventually nurses to health and names Wilbur (Will Stevenson). Wilbur is sold down the road to the Zuckermans (Uncle Homer played by Garrett Matthews and Aunt Edith played by Anna Phillips-Brown), who put farmhand Lurvy (Talia Cutler) in charge of his feeding. He’s parked in a barn with some geese, sheep, lambs, a food-motivated rat named Templeton (Emma Hill), and, of course, Charlotte (Abby Middleton). Here Wilbur will live in comfort until he’s fat enough to become bacon, a terrifying reality he soon learns from his new friends. But, as we all know, Charlotte to the rescue! The resourceful little arachnid begins to weave praises into her web—starting with “Some Pig”— that captivate the Zuckermans and their rural farm town. Instead of slaughter, Wilbur heads to the fair, where he encounters competition (a porky pig named Uncle played by Owen Thiebert) and becomes the toast of the townx.
Stevenson makes a sweet Wilbur, who’s a cute guy all in pink with a genuine, happy grin while Middleton’s Charlotte has the soothing, controlled, and assuring voice of a pre-school teacher. She’s such a calming presence able to keep Wilbur from falling into complete fear. Manicone is also a great Fern, going easily from child to pre-teen during the show, singing “Mama You Don’t Understand Me,” with her mother (Izzy Smelkinson) about how she’ll never change (i.e., take notice of boys) only to find herself in her first courtship while perusing the fair. And, who doesn’t love Templeton, the rat? Hill chimes in with well-timed zingers as the snarky, comic foil.
closes June 17, 2018
Details and tickets
Then there are all the barn animals, played by a gaggle of kids that double as townspeople. They each get a moment to shine (just as Thiebert does in his short appearance as the aforementioned Uncle), bringing sweet moments of levity, such as when they turn up as owls and bats to sing “Charlotte’s Spinning Song” in the dead of the night or as Charlotte’s babies. Or, how the little lambs wear white flapper dresses and the two boy animals, as well as Wilbur, have jaunty pageboy hats. The time may be “the present,” but the costumes scream early 20th Century Americana. Adds a hint of nostalgia befitting of the original book, which was published in 1952.
There are some minor changes from the original material, like Avery (Gabriela Simmons-Robles) is a little sister (in the book Avery is an older brother), but the adaptation hits all the key moments and, most importantly, captures the heart of what has made Charlotte’s Web beloved beyond belief: honesty. It takes difficult topics and addresses them head-on, trusting that children have the ability to grasp weighty subjects, such as death and change. Fern and Wilbur each mature from young’un to young adult with the passing seasons, one finding boys suddenly interesting and the other transitioning from a pet pig in need of her constant care and love to a father figure who gives love and care to Charlotte’s progeny.
As Wilbur says, “To live a good life is more important than to live a long life.” And, a good life is filled with meaningful relationships.
Charlotte’s Web is, as always, a must for any kid. That they can now enjoy it on stage, to song, is like icing on a cake.
Charlotte’s Web . Music and Lyrics by Charles Strouse. Based on the book by E.B. White. Directed and Choreographed by Matt Conner. Adapted by Joseph Robinette. Featuring Will Stevenson, Abby Middleton, Sophia Manicone, Izzy Smelkinson, Sylvern Groomes Jr., Anna Phillips-Brown, Garrett Matthews, Gabriela Simmons-Robles, Talia Cutler, Emma Hill, Libby Brooke, Miri Brooke, Arianna Vargas, Allyson Kentner-Leary, Nora Hill, Morgan Beltson, Alessandra Simmons-Robles, Mai Gabra, Constance Meade, Madeline Aldana, Owen Thiebert, and Leif Hernandez. Production: Margie Jervis, Scenic, Prop, and Costume Designer; Lynn Joslin, Lighting Design; Margie Greer, Assistant Stage Manager; Laura Trice, Assistant Stage Manager; Teddy Wiant, Scenic Carpenter; Dakota Kaylor, Percussion. Stage Managed by Ro Harris. Produced by Creative Cauldron . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.