I first read E.B. White’s classic children’s novel Charlotte’s Web in my second grade English class. I remember being amazed by how a story so simple could be instilled with something so beautiful. I may be a little older now, but the story of the friendship between a pig and a spider still holds a special place in my heart.
If a book can provide such wonder on the page, bringing it to life on the stage does so much more. Creative Cauldron’s production of Charlotte’s Web (adapted by Joseph Robinette, with music and lyrics by Charles Strouse) perfectly captures the heart and humor of White’s novel. Featuring an incredibly talented youth cast as well as several D.C. professionals, it is a wonderful reminder of the magic of everyday life.
Director Matt Connor excels on all fronts in delivering exceptional performances from actors of all ages. Also working as the choreographer of the piece, Connor takes inspiration from the glamour of Broadway to the foot stomping of the hoedown to create memorable numbers with the help of Music Director Amy Conley like “Welcome to the Zuckerman Barn” (which has been playing in my head nonstop since the performance). The triple threat Margie Jervis (on sets, props, and costumes) creates the farm atmosphere with authentic barn siding and wood pieces throughout the space. The choice to put the animals in ’20s-style garb adds a bit of sparkle to the flannels and homespun of the farm. Lighting designer Lynn Joslin provides the perfect amount of ambiance as the days and nights pass. Her fireworks display was a delight for people of all ages.
The production’s source of strength is the level of talent across the board. Will Stevenson as Wilbur emanates joy from every pore and is a riot in his solo “Eating.” Abby Middleton as Charlotte is the epitome of poise and grace as her crystal clear soprano soars through the score. Sophia Manicone as Fern perfectly balances the innocence of youth with the itch to be treated like a grownup. Gabriela Simmons-Robles as her little sister Avery fills the stage with sass and spunk as she tries to use Wilbur’s fame to become a star. Izzy Smelkinson, Sylvern Groomes Jr, Anna Phillips-Brown, and Garrett Matthews as the Arables and Zuckermans respectively are an outstanding quartet, handling every moment onstage with incredible comedic timing.
The younger members of the cast are an absolute delight to watch as they bring their unlimited energy to an array of colorful characters. Their individual talents form a first-rate ensemble in numbers like “Freedom Now!” and “County Fair.” However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one scene-stealing performance. Little Owen Thiebert as the Pig Named Uncle is simply hysterical. His bold swagger and braggadocio in his only scene stopped the show for a good minute of applause.
For those of you who are familiar with the story of Charlotte’s Web, this production is as refreshing as a summer breeze. For those who aren’t familiar with this incredible tale, I urge you to make your way down to Falls Church to meet Wilbur, Charlotte, and their friends. They’ll be delighted to meet you.