Theater Preview: 'Charlotte's Web' set to music at Playhouse

Pigs and spiders aren't exactly the sort of creatures one might imagine hanging around together, sharing a little barnyard companionship. But back in 1952, author E.B. White came up with the idea to link them in a children's book, and the rest was history.

"Charlotte's Web," the heart-touching result of White's vivid imagination, has spawned an animated movie in 1973, a straight-to-video film sequel in 2003 and a live-action movie version in 2006. The latter project also inspired a video game adaptation.

The story has been told and retold on stage as well, and now it's coming to the Laguna Playhouse next weekend as a musical with music and lyrics by Charles Strouse, who also scored "Annie" and "Bye Bye Birdie." Award-winning children's playwright Joseph Robinette wrote the book.

"'Charlotte's Web' is one of the most beloved children's books ever written," said Kelly Herman, who's directing the Laguna version with choreography by Julia Fowler and musical direction by Diane King Vann.

"I think that no matter how many times you read the book, see the play or watch the movie version, you're touched by the humanity of the story and the extraordinary capacity that all living creatures have to love," Herman said.

The musical version will include numbers like "Eating," Wilbur the pig's humorous yet poignant song about growing up; "Who Says We Can't Be Friends," a duet between Wilbur and his new companion, Charlotte the spider; "Welcome to the Zuckerman Barn," an ensemble piece with the animals pitching in for a hand-clapping, toe-tapping hoedown, and "Summer," a nostalgic chorus number evoking a time and place from everyone's childhood.

The crux of the story, of course, concerns Charlotte's efforts to spare Wilbur from ending up as pork chops. His scheduled trip to the butcher is delayed when Charlotte spins the words "some pig" into her web.

"Charlotte's Web, the Musical" takes the playhouse stage next Friday at 7:30 for a two-weekend engagement. Performance times are Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 1 and 5 p.m. Tickets may be reserved by contacting the playhouse box office at (949) 497-2787.

"The play has some very simple, yet important themes that both kids and adults can relate to," director Herman said. "It teaches us to be better people in this world and to respect our sense of awe and wonder at all things new."

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