In a whimsical and energetic adaption, the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC) performs E.B. White’s classic children’s novel Charlotte’s Web. The cast boasts an impressive group of elementary and middle school children with considerable skills in acting, singing, and dancing. The play follows the story of a young pig named Wilbur, the runt of the litter, who is first cared for by a girl named Fern, and eventually adopted by her uncle Homer’s farm. While Wilbur befriends animals (and a very special arachnid) in the barn he now calls home, the threat looms of being slaughtered for, you guessed it – bacon and smoked ham! Terrified of a dawning death sentence, a spider named Charlotte volunteers to save his life by astounding the townspeople and reporters with messages inscribed in spider webs.
For such a small stage, the production squeezes in enthusiastic dancers and musical numbers around multipurpose setting pieces. The costumes were well-designed, most notably Charlotte’s, with a fluttery black dress that almost looks arachnid-like in form when Dani Chowen scales the wooden ladders and creatively crafted web in the barn. The ensemble characters got in the act with each contributing complementing energies using sock puppets, news reporting songs, and well-rehearsed dancing in group numbers. Brenda T. Hayes, the actress portraying Templeton the rat, was an immediate standout with articulate facial expression and a powerful, melodic voice. Collectively, the SPARC cast of this production delivers an excellent performance that successfully condenses a classic while still retaining the amusing and engaging nature of E.B. White’s original story. The show is a little less than an hour, not including a fifteen minute intermission.
Perhaps the aspect that impressed me the most was the sheer amount of talent that these kids possessed! Too few middle schoolers are passionate about the arts, be it instruments, acting, vocals, photography, painting, sketching, or musical theater. SPARC not only provides exposure to learning to be part of a team, utilizing hard work, and learning self-confidence, but also encourages artistic development in a broad age group that I would argue most needs it.
Catch Charlotte’s Web at the SPARC Center and check their website to check the times and ticket availability. The play continues until May 12.