Theatre Review: ‘Charlotte’s Web’ by Rocking Horse Productions at Lancaster Opera House

Theater that is geared toward children isn’t always enjoyable for adults. Some of the performances, especially when the actors are playing animals, can feel too silly and over-exaggerated.

Thankfully, Rocking Horse Productions’ inventive telling of “Charlotte’s Web,” directed by Leigha Eichhorn, defies that stereotype, offering an innocently fun evening at the theater for all ages.

. . .wholesome and heartwarming. . .

Based on the best-selling novel by E.B. White, “Charlotte’s Web” follows the story of Wilbur, the smallest pig in his litter who was saved from slaughter by Fern, his owner’s daughter. As Wilbur gets bigger, he is taken to the Zuckerman’s farm to live until he is fat enough to sell. When Wilbur and Fern find out his planned fate, Charlotte, a spider who lives in the barn with Wilbur, offers her assistance to keep him alive, weaving words like “radiant” and “humble” into her web to attract visitors in hopes that Zuckerman will change his mind.

First and foremost, we have to talk about Danielle Burning as Charlotte. Her voice is gentle and soothing and her body language smooth and calculated. But what makes her performance truly unforgettable is her aerial gymnastic skills. With the use of aerial silks suspended from the rafters, Burning utilizes her strength and grace to mimic Charlotte’s moves through the web, delivering a chunk of her lines while hanging upside down. The audience is in awe every time she does a trick, and adds a layer of magic to the production.

Wilbur is played by an excellent Angelo Heimowitz. With incredible vocal clarity and a vibrant, expressive face he makes for one adorable pig, nailing his pig noises and behaviors in every scene. Coupled with Elissa Neri as Fern, they make for one aww-inducing pair.

All of the animal characters are embraced by their human counterparts who fearlessly commit to whatever vocal stylings or behaviors are necessary to sell their animals. While it is very silly, it is never too hokey or cheesy. Derrick Reynolds gives a standout performance as Templeton the rat, letting his gritty baritone boom to the back of the theater and giving us a little taste of a villain for the story (don’t get me wrong – he’s not really mean, just selfish).

Another interesting technical choice is the absence of produced sound effects for all but one of the background noises for the show. Whether it be birds, fireworks or even a car horn, all of the sounds were performed live by the cast. Some were obviously people and others were impressively deceiving. But most of all, it offered a sort of perfectly homegrown feel to the production.

“Charlotte’s Web” is a wholesome and heartwarming night out for all ages. Even if shows geared toward children aren’t your thing, it is worth seeing just to watch Burning as Charlotte turn tricks on her silky web.

Running time: 1 hour and 50 minutes including 15-minute intermission

“Charlotte’s Web” plays through March 25, 2018, is produced by Rocking Horse Productions, and is presented at Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.