Theater review: Zach Theatre’s “Charlotte’s Web” puts bluegrass spin on E.B. White classic

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"Charlotte's Web" is at Zach Theatre through Dec. 3. Winnie Hsia from Sky Candy plays Charlotte. Kirk Tuck
"Charlotte's Web" is at Zach Theatre through Dec. 3. Winnie Hsia from Sky Candy plays Charlotte. Kirk Tuck

“Charlotte’s Web” is at Zach Theatre through Dec. 3. Winnie Hsia from Sky Candy plays Charlotte. Kirk Tuck

“Terrific,” “Radiant,” “Humble,” “Some Pig.” These words, which the character of Charlotte spins into her web in “Charlotte’s Web,” could easily describe the production at Zach Theatre. On stage through Dec. 3, the production was adapted from the E.B. White book by Joseph Robinette, and directed by Zach’s Education Director Nat Miller with musical direction by Allen Robertson.

Robertson, who was one half of the KLRU kids’ show “The Biscuit Brothers,” works with the other Biscuit Brother Jerome Schoolar, as well as Amanda Clifton, Amber Quick and  Joseph Quintana, to create the bluegrass band that furnishes the preshow and show music. The band plays humble, old-fashioned hymns including “I’ll Fly Away,” and “Will the Circle by Unbroken.” The songs set the stage perfectly of a humble farm where an extraordinary pig, Wilbur, is born.

The musicians in the band do double duty as the Zuckerman family, farmhands and county fair participants as well as the animals on the farm: Sheep, Goose and Gander, and Templeton, the rat. Simple costume changes and movement help the audience quickly switch from seeing human to seeing animal. The actors for Wilbur, the pig, (in Thursday morning’s 10 a.m. show played by Diego Rodriguez) and his human champion, Fern (played in this show by Mariela Denson), also join the band between scenes.

The clear star of this show is Charlotte, played by Sky Candy Aerial & Circus Arts’ Winnie Hsia. For all of the show’s simplicity, Hsia creates wonder in the weaving of the letters into the spider’s web. Each time she weaves, Hsia does one death-defying trick after another while the audience watches each letter be written in an illuminated sign above the metal web. It is magical.

For a show that lets audience see the characters change, these letters are the one secret hidden from the audience that captivated the first-grade students that were in the audience at our viewing.

Bits of physical humor including Wilbur trying to show Charlotte that he is radiant by dancing; Wilbur trying to escape the farmer and farmhand; a cocky, much larger pig at the fair; and the support cast of farm animals, also kept this normally squirmy audience engaged in the hour-long show.

Even though this is not a show that Zach Theatre wrote for the stage, it put its own spin on the show by the using an aerialist as the spider to creating a bluegrass band and playing hymns, instead of the original Broadway musical’s production numbers. That makes it “Some Show.”

“Charlotte’s Web”

When: 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 29-30, Nov. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, 25-27, Dec. 3; 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, Nov. 5, 12, 19, 26 and Dec. 3

Where: Zach Theatre’s Kleberg Theatre, 1421 W. Riverside Drive

Tickets: $16-$21

Information: zachtheatre.org.

 

 


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