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Review: CHARLOTTE'S WEB at Kate Goldman Children's Theatre

An Imaginative Telling of a Classic Story

Review: CHARLOTTE'S WEB at Kate Goldman Children's Theatre
Charlotte Rempe as Wilbur
Isabella Nielsen as Charlotte
Photo by Steve Gibbons

One of the great things about children's theatre is that it brings some of our favorite stories from growing up to life on the stage. This also sparks children's imagination to dig into the books they are based on. Des Moines Playhouse is sparking the imagination of this generation and encouraging them to read with their nearly sold-out production of "Charlotte's Web." Their production opened in the Kate Goldman's Children's Theatre stage on March 4. The show has been so in demand that they've added another performance that has nearly sold out.

If your memory has a few cobwebs in it, Charlotte's Web tells the story of a pig named Wilbur. Born as the runt of the litter, Wilbur's owner, John Arable's daughter Fern, pleads to her father, who agrees to let Wilbur live. Fern's love and friendship with Wilber helps the pig grow bigger and stronger. When they can no longer care for Wilbur, they send the pig to their neighbor, the Zuckermans. When Wilbur gets to his new home, he meets the animals, including a spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur finds out he will become part of the feast at the upcoming holiday, Charlotte comes up with a plan. She will spin a web with a word to get the Zuckermans to reconsider. Do they reconsider when they see Charlotte's Web? You will have to see the play or read the book to find out.

This production sparks the imagination as soon as they walk into the theatre. As you walk in, you see Nicholas Amundson's set, which transports the audience to the farm most of the first act. The pieces that are brought on throughout the show continue to spark the kids' imagination in the audience. Another thing I found exciting was the costuming designed by Jessica Van Essen. The choices she made on how to bring these animals to life allowed us as an audience to see the actor but see the animal through the costume.

One of the other creative ideas in the show was to use lighting for Charlotte's web. As you walked into the theatre, you could see a web of light where later Charlotte's lair would be. I initially expected all the webs she made to appear in that location. It was a pleasant surprise to see the words being projected onto fabric webs as each of the words Charlotte uses were seen on stage. Overall, everything is tied together, making an imaginative show for the audience to see.

The fantastic cast brought together by director Chelsea Haaland brings this story to life on the stage. One of the fantastic casting decisions was casting most of the animal characters in the show with kids and then casting Charlotte as an adult. It gave the group a leader/motherly figure in Charlotte. Isabella Nielsen makes her return to the Playhouse stage in the role of Charlotte, having last appeared in the Playhouse's production of "A Christmas Story: The Musical." She gave the audience a very nurturing Charlotte. The way she talked with each of the animals in the show had this sense of leadership in a very caring manner. It was easy to see how she earned the respect of each of the characters in the show.

Another aspect that this cast pulled out was one of friendship. This was seen in Chloe O'Neil as Fern Arable and Charlotte Rempe as Wilbur. Both actresses made their Playhouse debuts in the show. From the first time they meet, the audience gets to see their friendship grow. What I enjoyed seeing with these actresses was how they, at times we're able to mimic each other. It was one of my favorite ways they showed us how their friendship grew. There were many other great performances on stage in this cast or 21 that I could go on and on about. Each captured the audience's imagination in different ways, making for a fun performance for all ages.

Whether it is your first time experiencing the story of "Charlotte's Web," or you are revisiting a story, this production captures the audience's imaginations in a way only theatre can. From the imaginative sets and costumes to the fantastic cast, each element of the show works together to spark the imagination of those in attendance and hopefully leads them to revisit the story through the book the play is based on. While there may not be many tickets left, there is a virtual option, where you can watch the show with your family. To find out more about this production or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.dmplayhouse.com/events/charlottes-web/.



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