BY SANDY STAGGS
The Spartanburg Youth Theatre begins its 2017-18 season with a real perky porker in a untangled web of heroics and friendship. That’s right, that original pet pig Wilbur is back with his friend Charlotte the barn spider, and the farm’s denizens in the E.B White’s seminal classic “Charlotte’s Web” Friday and Saturday at the Chapman Cultural Center.
When young Fern (Avery Mason) saves the runt piglet of the litter from the imminent ax, Wilbur (Ella Bowen) becomes the talk of the town and county fair with the help of a clever, caring spider named Charlotte (Olivia Woodall), when she spins Wilbur’s positive traits through messages in her magic web with words such “radiant” and “terrific.”
And those adjectives also describe this heartfelt production made up of about 34 local youth in grades 3 -12, supporting the Spartanburg Youth Theatre’s mission of producing theatre “by youth, for youth.”
That’s just one facet that makes this theatre, now in its 43rd year, so unique, according to SYT director Adam Sanders. “Even the running crew and technical crew are comprised of students,” he said. And that includes the light and sound boards and microphones, which are almost always operated by trained adults at most theatres for young audiences.
Sanders said this play, adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette, includes students from five Spartanburg school districts representing 17 different schools, as well as home-schooled children.
The youth cast and crew is also performing nearly two sold-out morning matinees on Wednesday and Thursday to audiences of elementary school children from Spartanburg and surrounding counties.
“Children of all ages will enjoy this story of love, friendship and loyalty, says Guest Director Dawn Byington. “I have loved ‘Charlotte’s Web’ since I was a little girl and I am honored to be directing it this year. We have a barn full of animals that can’t wait to see you!”
“Charlotte’s Web” is faithful to White’s story and preserves the charm, setting, universal message and humor – it even features a well-executed good old-fashioned pig chase scene.
And the young performers are excellent with Miss Bowen and Miss Woodall as worthy leaders of this ensemble. The majority play animals, but there plenty of “human” roles too.
Ryan Thomas and Alyssa Henderson are Fern’s parents John and Martha Arable, with an enthusiastic Brayden Hensley as her brother Avery.
Hayden Scoggins and Mallory Haynes are farmers Homer and Edith Zuckerman, who take Wilbur in and all the way to the judging stall at the County Fair. And Meridith Hall plays a reporter covering the divine miracles occurring in the Zuckerman farm.
Zach Urban brings down-home humor nuanced personality to the part of Lurvy, the Zuckerman’s farm hand, and Colton Bruce is exuberant as the good-time rat Templeton, who thrives on food crumbs and serves as a beacon of comic relief.
Eilidh McKinnon delivers an impressive and sophisticated turn as the narrator, who weaves in and out of the plot with a bit of exposition. And Sydney Threatt leaves a lasting impression as Uncle, the porky pig who becomes Wilbur’s chief competitor at the County Fair.
Laney Voyles and Parker Bowen have fun as the extremely fertile Goose and Gander who have at least two gaggles of Goslings (played dutifully by Calla Byington, Delaney Lux and Ella Waybright) over the course of the story.
And these kids were totally immersed in barnyard character: Ellie Calvert as the old Sheep, Audrey Soto as the Lamb, and as various animals and spectators, Abbie Loscuito, Annie Brannon, Austyn Turley, Charlotte Ward and Corin Thomas.
Student Emily Thomas is Stage Manager of “Charlotte’s Web” with Kate Yarbray, Jacob Groetsch and Cooper Beck as backstage crew.
Liam Woodall is on the light board, with Barret Hay on sound board, Trey Westbrook on microphones, and Zary Van Pelt and Seth Arnold running spot lights.
The rustic Mid-West farm scenic design is by Dr. Tim Baxter-Ferguson (recently behind the Mt. Olympus set in “Xanadu”) and the “Oklahoma!”-style costumes are by Upstate actor Sarah Hurley, who soon will grace the Chapman stage as the domineering Nurse Ratchet in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
This show is appropriate for all ages.
“Charlotte’s Web” plays at the Chapman Cultural Center on Friday, October 13 at 4:30 and 7 p.m. and Saturday, October 14 at 2pm. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for youth, and can be purchased by phone at (864) 542-2787 or online at www.chapmanculturalcenter.org.
A 20% group discount is available for groups of 10 or more. Call the Spartanburg Youth Theatre office at (864) 585-8278 for more information or log onto the SYT website at www.spartanburgyouththeatre.com.