Charlotte’s Web, the E. B. White classic tale of friendship, sacrifice and veganism before its time, is so well known you would think it would be hard to effectively present it on stage for contemporary audiences. In its sophomore season, Asheville Creative Arts easily overcame that concern. The company’s current version of the show, performed as part of the Catalyst Series at N.C. Stage Co., is adapted by Joseph Robinette and directed and choreographed by Robbie Jaeger.
ACA gives the story of a pig named Wilbur, a little girl named Fern and Charlotte the spider a new spin. Puppetry plays a large part in this dazzling production, as does a series of projected drawings, presumably done by young Fern (performed with exuberance by Maria Buchanan). Gina Stewart, as an older Fern, sings and plays guitar throughout the show, weaving a unique narrative and providing grown-up perspective. The original songs by Stewart and Brenda Lee Gambill are charming and help move the story forward.
At the center of it all is Wilbur, presented by a variety of clever puppets (created by Abby Felder for this production) early in the show, then brought to life with lovable charm by David Sebren. Wilbur’s lust for life is not well-met by most animals on the Zukerman Farm, but he does befriend Charlotte (another Felder puppet, worked skillfully by Carin Metger).
The remaining cast is tasked with a multitude of roles which require quick changes and character shifts. This ensemble make it look easy — a credit to the professional caliber of talent assembled. Jensen Titus Lavallee and Allen Law are newer faces to Asheville’s theater scene, and are tremendous talents, playing (among several roles) the acerbic sheep and Templeton the narcissistic rat, respectively. Jenni Robinson is no stranger to local stages and is a seamless addition to the ACA team as Mrs. Zukerman and the goose.
The show runs a tight 75 minutes, with no intermission, and the time passes quickly. And, no matter how well you think you know this story, it is a little hard to not get choked up at the end, when the reality of growing up and moving on hits home. If you are looking for exceptional live entertainment for the whole family, this is the perfect show.
Charlotte’s Web runs through Sunday, July 27. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 1 and 7 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 1 and 4:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m.. Tickets: $10-$20.