Wild Swan’s ‘Charlotte’s Web’ wonderful for all ages
ANN ARBOR, Mich.–Charlotte’s Web, when done right, like Wild Swan Theatre does, is money in the bank for entertaining and engaging elementary school kids.
The energy on stage starts with the indomitable Sandy Ryder as Wilbur the Pig. Ryder is a force of nature on stage in every role she plays, but her enthusiasm and spirit seems to come especially alive in Wilbur, which we have seen her play before.
Based on E.B. White’s classic story, the best selling children’s paperback book of all time, the Wild Swan production, directed by Sonja Marquis, wonderfully brings the story to life with committed performances and an engaging set.
The themes are timeless and very real, which is what makes it such an enduring story. A young girl named Fern (Meghan VanArsdalen) pleads for the life of a run of a piglet litter–Wilbur. She looks upon Wilbur as a pet, but later the oinker is sold to Fern’s Uncle (Robert Starko). Wilbur is socially awkward, but draws the affection of Charlotte, the spider in the barn (Natalie Rose Sevick) who manages to get the humans off the idea of killing Wilbur for bacon by spinning webs that spell out messages like “Some Pig.”
Of course, come Fall, Charlotte lays her eggs and prepares to die. Her eggs hatch, and a few of the babies remain in the barn and take her place, while the rest leave to find their own place in the world. Wilbur lives on, holding a special place in the hearts of the humans and the other animals in the barn and barnyard.
Sevick does a splendid job of conveying the “spirit mother” aspect of Charlottes character, a great offset and balance to Ryder’s sweet, loud, innocent piggy. Andrew Barikomo plays Templeton the Rat, and does so seeming to channel Paul Lynde, which is fine. It’s a good choice for the rat. Michelle Trame Lanzi plays a few parts including Mrs. Arable and the Goose. Jeremy Salvatori plays multiple characters too–Lurvy, Gander, and a reporter.
One of the things I marvel at with Wild Swan’s productions at The Townsley Auditorium is their decision to not use face or body mics. The actors, who are probably used to using them elsewhere, even in smaller spaces, are clearly reminded during rehearsal to project like they did in acting school. It works about 90% of the time. But a couple of actors seem to let down in a few places, making their dialogue tough to pick up here and there. But it’s not a big deal, and I’m not sure the kids with their younger ears even missed the same lines I did.
Still, I think I would like to see a production with body mics to see how it is.
There is a reason why Charlotte’s Web is and will always remain beloved by kids and their parents. Wild Swan makes it enjoyable for audience of all ages.
You can still catch the show tomorrow–Saturday.