SOUTH SALT LAKE — I saw Charlotte’s Web with three of my delightful children, and they were nothing less than impressed.  My six-year-old said, “It was great.” And my oldest, age 8, was enamored with Charlotte; “She was really good at doing acrobats. And the spider webs looked really cool.” But I think my little Keller said it best. “It was so fabeelous than ever,” were his words.  My four-year-old’s first play was a success!

Show closes May 25, 2013.

Show closes May 25, 2013.

Utah Children’s Theater has created an absolute delight with this production.  Not out of thin air, of course.  The well-known story of Charlotte’s Web was written by E.B. White, and adapted by Joseph Robinette.  Full of farm animals and excitement, this production had me laughing out loud in a theater, something I haven’t done in a long time.  Tears came easily, as well, as I enjoyed the show’s tender moments.

Director Brett Howell clearly delivered a message of friendship and sacrifice.  He chose a perfect cast, and set the scene with his narrator, Denise Gull.  She was engaging and soothing, and Gull mad me feel like I was being read to.  I was impressed by how well each side of the audience was included. Unlike many productions performed in thrust spaces, Howell and his cast ensured that each section of the audience got a special visit from the cast.

Charlotte's Web - Children's Theater

Mandi Marks as Wilbur and Matthew Windham as Zuckerman.

All the technical elements combined so seemlessly in this show. Spider webs, barn doors, swings, green grass, clovers, and a clouded sky—this crisp, homey set was designed by James Parker.  What a genius concept he had for the web! Charlotte was not confined to a little corner, and always had a clear view of the action of the story.  I loved the words attached to the web, glittering in the lights.  There was a great variety in the lighting and sound: daylight and fun farm music, versus Charlotte’s nighttime spinning under shimmery lights and delicate melodies. I so enjoyed the charming folk and country music that was chosen.  The emotion the audience felt was magnified by music and lighting from sound and lighting technician Natalie Colony.

And then there were Christina Wilson‘s fantastic costumes: she didn’t just provide the basics; she added clever details like leather fringe on a horse.  The geese just killed me with their puppet heads and flapping cloth.  Wilbur’s pig physique was created with a hula-hoop inside his pink costume.  This idea wasn’t executed as well with the large pig, Uncle, though; I didn’t know why his hula-hoop middle wasn’t covered in fabric the same way Wilbur’s was, and he ended up looking more like a dog.  Charlotte was enchanting with only four legs, dressed in black (with a little white) and sparkling as she moved.

Mandi Marks as Wilbur.

Mandi Marks as Wilbur.

Besides a few corny/over-the-top moments by the ensemble, I was very happy with the acting.  Baby Wilbur (Alina Smith) was an adorable character, and seeing Fern (Sofia Rahaniotis) hold him and speak with him overwhelmed me with cuteness.  The baby spiders, too, played by Alina Smith, Helene Hazel Parker, and Eva Jewel Zamora were a dose of joy after the sadness of the previous scene.

I loved the way each of the animals moved: Sheep (Meighan Smith), Horse (Kathryn Moss), and the hilarious geese (Ashley Sargeant and Sean Pickell). Sargeant and Pickell were hilarious everytime they waddled, flapped, or honked.  They made me laugh the most, for sure.  I enjoyed Wilbur’s (Mandi Marks) sort of stuffy-nose accent, very subtle and endearing; Marks was a joy to watch.  When Matthew Windham and Cameron Colony weren’t yelling, I enjoyed them very much as Zuckerman and Lurvy. I just tend to prefer intensity rather than volume.  Bryson Dumas played the lovably despicable Templeton, and his performance fit his character perfectly.  He reminded me of those old-time comedians, who spoke in a gruff voice, constantly complaining.  One of the highlights of this version was the absence of Templeton’s song at the fair; I always dreaded that part in the film.

This show could not have been what it was without Jessica Wilson, who played the title role.  I was mystified by her performance—her glittering costume and controlled movements captured my attention completely. She spoke in a measured tone, which I haven’t really experienced in a play, and it amazed me.  I couldn’t believe that I could feel an emotional response when she spoke so evenly, inhumanly.  I know that Wilson has training on a trapeze, but I would guess she’s also experienced in gymnastics and dance.  She climbed all over that set and twirled in and out—I don’t possess the vocabulary to describe it adequately.  I can’t say enough good things about Wilson’s skilled and moving performance.  I’m sure the director was so grateful for this amazing Charlotte.

The scene with Wilbur and Charlotte at the end of the fair was executed beautifully by all involved.  My little kids looked up at me as I cried. Believe me when I say that it is worth it for you to take a vacation from your busy life to visit Zuckerman’s farm.  I promise Charlotte will leave you in awe, and you will see something positive and true “written on the web.”

Charlotte’s Web is playing at Utah Children’s Theater (3605 S. State Street in South Salt Lake) Fridays at 7 PM and Saturdays at 1 PM and 4:30 PM through May 25.  Tickets are $14; for more information