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A splendid 'Charlotte's Web' has a short run

Despite mounting concerns surrounding the spread of the coronavirus, the Flat Rock Playhouse most recent production opened with optimistic numbers.


“Charlotte’s Web,” a childhood classic authored by E.B. White and adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette, received cheers before the lights came up and kept receiving them (along with some hearty chuckles) all the way through curtain call.
Families with children made up the majority of ticket holders Friday night, with the house comfortably filled to over half its capacity. Though a slightly smaller crowd than usual for an opening, the regular, raucous laughter from the young to the older patrons filled any empty air, and it seemed the entire town turned out.
Unfortunately for the actors and for the community, the show had to close after three performances, another victim of the coronavirus shutdown. A clever, well-executed and adorable performance by all had just the one opportunity to shine. Happily, it did. But, a great measure of sadness accompanies the thought that rather than the entire town, only a few lucky ticketholders were able to claim the experience. The Flat Rock Playhouse announced Saturday the show would not go on, starting with that day’s matinee.
The talented children of the Studio 52 drama school will have to be content with one excellent performance. Marks were hit, lines projected, words enunciated, and everyone found their light. A few actors nailed their spotlights so well they became clear audience favorites.
Templeton the rat, played by Cyrus Hardin, nailed his one-liners with acute comedic timing. Hardin’s hilarious caricature of a scurrying, extremely food motivated rodent was aided by the swaying of his huge, furry gut and a tail unbelievably realistic (which at one point he used as a nail file). The clever costume, designed by Ashli Arnold Crump, swallowed his slim frame, a juxtaposition to the character’s squeaky sarcasm that wasn’t lost on the kids in the audience, who hung on his every word.
Other key cast members include the Storytellers and Musicians, who punctuated the program with exposition and a beautiful, rustic music. Ellery Cheek, Carly Corn, Ella Tokar and Ava Treadway each swapped between speaking and playing to the audience. Always with a confidence and ease that belied their youth. A violin, guitar and recorder were among the instruments featured, and the truly home-spun soundtrack fit the barnyard life well.
As for the story itself, E.B. White’s famous children’s book is condensed and adapted to the stage deftly, losing some details yet retaining the theme of sacrifice and the foreboding mood. The farm animals’ personalities and aid, as well as Charlotte’s ultimate gift are still as heartwarming and heart wrenching as we all remember. And Wilbur, the pig special enough to inspire it all, remains an important symbol of innocence. The show that opened and closed over the course of two days left an enduring token of curiosity, selflessness and love in a time that needs more of all three.