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‘Charlotte’s Web’ gets a fresh take with Fairbanks Drama Association performance

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Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2012 11:08 pm | Updated: 12:06 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — It’s a children’s classic we all know and love, one we could almost recite from beginning to finish despite not having read it since our youth.

The Fairbanks Drama Association is reviving the popular “Charlotte’s Web” at the Hap Ryder Riverfront Theatre, 1852 Second Ave., beginning tonight. The beloved tale by E. B. White, which was adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette, was named by the Children’s Literature Association as “The best American children’s book of the past 200 years.”

Theater-goers can expect a classic telling of the tale in that farm girl Fern saves Wilbur from death, and the incredible spider Charlotte changes their lives. But the classic telling pretty much stops with the storyline. Director Valinda Taylor has taken a somewhat minimalist approach to the design of the play, allowing for the theater experience to be more focused on the story rather than costuming or staging.

“I wanted it to be a little more intellectual, a little more contemporary,” she said. “It’s not really that kind of eye candy for the little ones. There are no pink suits for the pigs or bales of hay on the set.”

No pink suits, indeed. Characters are dressed down with a simple white T-shirt with an emblem of a pig, goose or sheep on the front, denoting their characters, and the production incorporates some computer animation as well. Because of that, and the length of the performance — it’s almost two hours — it’s being recommended for children ages 8 and up. Because of her decision to put a modern spin on a classic, at least design and costume wise, Taylor did feel some pressure about the production, she said.

“The pressure came when I made the decision that it wasn’t going to be for little ones,” she said of the fresh take on the play. “We really wanted the set and the characters to shine through.”

“Charlotte’s Web” is a leap for Taylor, at least with its modern approach. She directed her first play with FDA last winter, the production of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “Charlotte” was more challenging than “Wonderful Life,” she said, because there are so many routes she could have taken as a director in telling the story. She kept the traditional storyline but merged some modern aspects with the tale.

“It’s a great show and lots of fun with lots of color and comedy, but it’s really the story we’re trying to tell,” Taylor said. “We’re hoping to give you that theater experience but in a fresh perspective. We’re promoting family with this production. It’s a great choice to revive.”

If you go

What: “Charlotte’s Web”

When: 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, today through Dec. 16

Where: Hap Ryder Riverfront Theatre,

1852 Second Ave.

Tickets: Tickets are available by phone reservation at 456-PLAY, Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets go on sale one hour before the show time. Tickets are $22 for adults; $18 for seniors, military and university students, $14 for teens 13-18 years and $10 for children ages 6 to 12.

FYI: Because of the length of the play, it is not recommended for children younger than 8.

Contact Features Editor Gary Black at 459-7504 on Twitter at @FDNMfeatures.

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