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.

Rocking Horse Productions Celebrates Eleventh Season

For the last eleven seasons, Rocking Horse Productions has been a staple at the Lancaster Opera House. A company that prides itself on casting new and veteran talent, Rocking Horse Productions has been responsible for the start of many theatrical careers in the Buffalo area. A producer of great theatrical content, Rocking Horse celebrates their 2017 – 2018 season by kicking it off with “9 to 5 The Musical.”

“We are excited to be producing this show,” says Douglas Kern, executive producer of Rocking Horse Productions, “it is fun, upbeat, and it is going to speak to many generations.”

“9 to 5 The Musical” is based on the 1980 film, which starred Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton. A tale of a group of women who are tired of being mistreated by their chauvinistic boss, take matters into their own hands to prove their worth in the workplace. This musical adaptation follows the same plot as the film, and includes a brand new score by Dolly Parton.

“I was a fan of the movie, and I was really excited when Doug asked me to direct this show,” says Leigha Eichhorn who is at the helm of this production, “it’s a fun show that still speaks a current message about equality, and about women who are trying to succeed in the business world.”

This show, which has gone through a transition from its 2009 Broadway run, has songs written by country music legend Dolly Parton, but that should not deter theatergoers who might not be fans of country music. “These songs aren’t your typical sappy country western songs,” says Eichborn, “they keep a positive message.”

In a world where Hollywood film adaptations grace the stage all too often as of late, Eichhorn says that if you are a fan of the movie, you will love this show. “The cast is fantastic and is really bringing the vision to life. The audience will not be disappointed.”

Rocking Horse also is producing the Christmas classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” this December. “We are happy to bring this full version of the show to the stage,” says Kern.

This show is under the direction of Jane Navarro, who directed Rocking Horse’s successful run of “A Few Good Men” last season. “It’s A Wonderful Life,’ is a great Christmas tradition, says Navarro, “I am happy to be working with new talent as well as with people I have worked with in the past.”

Navarro says that she is excited to be working with a cast that will reach over thirty people. “Everyone is going to bring something unique to this show that is going to make it very special.”

Navarro says that there is a certain expectation that theatergoers have when going to see a show that is so familiar to them. “You have to toe a fine line between giving the people what they are familiar with, and bringing your own unique twist to the material. ‘Every time a bell rings, an angel gets it’s wings,’ has to be there, or the audience will be let down.”

Eichhorn and Navarro direct shows later this season as well.  Eichhorn’s next project is “Charlotte’s Web.” “We have never done a show geared toward children before,” says Kern, “so we were honored to be asked by the executive director of the Lancaster Opera House to do so.”

Navarro directs Rocking Horse’s first dinner theatre production, “Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class,” one of the sequels to the successful “Nunsense” shows, written by Dan Goggin.

“9 to 5 The Musical” opens on September 8, 2017 at the Lancaster Opera House.

“It’s A Wonderful Life” runs December 1 – 10, 2017 at the Lancaster Opera House

“Charlotte’s Web” runs March 23- 25, 2018 at the Lancaster Opera House

“Sister Robert Anne’s Cabaret Class” runs January 26 – February 4, 2018 at Ripa’s Restaurant.

For tickets and more information, click here.