UCT spins a web with ‘timeless’ taleJan 29, 2019 11:48AM ● By Travis Barton
Larissa Anderson (right) plays Wilbur and Emmie Mace plays Fern in “Charlotte’s Web” at the Utah Children’s Theatre. (Photo courtesy UCT)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
This spider won’t scare you.
“Charlotte’s Web,” the classic children’s story by E. B. White, hit the stage Jan. 18 at the Utah Children’s Theatre (3605 South State Street) for its six-week run through Feb. 23. The show plays on Fridays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Directed by Emily Holmgren, the show tells the story of a pig, Wilbur (played by Larissa Anderson), seeking companionship on the farm only to be snubbed by the other barnyard animals. Wilbur eventually befriends a spider, the titular Charlotte (played by Amanda Van Orden).
“It’s one of those timeless stories about coming together,” said Nellie Kelly, the production and stage manager. “It’s a really easy story for kids to connect to, but also deals with some heavier topics. Because it deals with death a lot, it's pretty frank about the fact that animals die on farms.”
It’s a show, Kelly said, where kids can feel heavier topics “without being too dramatic or too light about it.”
Last done by UCT about six years ago, the show’s gloomier themes are balanced by its comic elements. Anderson said the script directs her to a variety of emotions from happy to sad to devastated and back again.
“That’s a lot, but my fellow castmates are very focused at moving those emotions along,” she said. “It feels really good.”
The emotion that might resonate most with audiences is Wilbur’s longing for friendship. In a press release, Anderson said she loves how pure the friendship is throughout.
“Wilbur is such a true-hearted pig,” she said. “The show is all about Wilbur’s friends and how he is loyal and true-hearted.”
The show aims to capture the two sides of friendship. “This story is about the circle of life and self-sacrificing friendship,” Holmgren said in a press release. “Relationships bring the greatest sorrow and the greatest joy.”
Contrasting the animals with the humans could provide the most comedy of the show.
“I’ve laughed so hard putting the show together,” Holmgren said in the press release. “The audience will laugh and cry. Because they are encouraged to laugh and have fun with the characters, when one dies it sends a pang to the heart because they loved them. It’s sad, but beautiful.”
Differentiating the actors playing humans from those playing animals may have been the biggest challenge. But it was something the cast and crew were ready for.
Animal costumes were patterned after classic clowns. Wilbur wears a hula hoop while geese have fake heads with eyeballs above their heads requiring actors to mimic where the eyes are looking despite not being their own, according to Kelly.
Set design and costumes are among the items the cast and crew are enthusiastic about.
Anderson was excited for the audience to see Charlotte’s actual web in action. “That's always just a magical thing in my mind,” she said.
But it’s what comes before the show that excites Kelly.
A preshow will be held for kids with games from a relay race to guessing the sound of a farm animal involving the actors.
That interaction between actors and audience continues into the play as characters will speak to the audience such as when the web first appears.
“It’s really cool that way, they’re very interactive,” Kelly said.
The cast ranges from 8 to middle aged and the show features many family units. Holmgren’s husband plays Homer while two of her daughters and a son also feature in the play. Two other mother-daughter duos are part of the show, with one working backstage doing makeup.
Especially with rehearsals running through the holidays, it’s nice for families to perform together, Kelly said.
“It was really cool because we always try to fit that in, not purposefully, but it’s kind of nice whenever our shows end up having family units in them,” she said. “Because it’s a lot of time away from your family when you're doing theater.”
For the Utah Children’s Theatre, Kelly said this show caters just as much to the younger audience as the older generation.
“The 4 year old will enjoy it as much as the 82 year old.”
Individual tickets may be purchased online at www.uctheatre.org or by calling 801-532-6000.