‘Charlotte’s Web’ in review

Eau Claire Children Theatre’s production of a classic tale perfect for a family-friendly outing


Photo by Submitted

“Charlotte’s Web,” presented by Eau Claire Children’s Theatre, showcased Castle Dettinger as Wilbur, Tehya Johnson as Fern and Ava Shultz as Charlotte.

Some pig.

The crooked letters gleam in the web. Charlotte stands back and put two of her hands on her hips. The stars in the background gently fade into a sunrise and a rooster crows. Soon, the farm is abuzz: Wilbur, before but a barnyard pig, is terrific!

“Charlotte’s Web,” presented by Eau Claire Children’s Theatre, showcased young talent last weekend. The State Theatre gave the production ample space for a pleasant barn scene complete with bales of hay and plenty of dancing animals.

Wilbur (Castle Dettinger), a runt piglet, is saved from the axe by Fern (Tehya Johnson). The pig is sent to live at the Zuckerman’s farm, where he meets farm animals and befriends a spider named Charlotte (Ava Shultz).

In effort to keep Wilbur out of the slaughterhouse, Charlotte spins words into her web. Her creations catch the eye of the humans, and Wilbur’s fame eventually earns him an entry in county fair. In the musical version, Wilbur does not win first place but is still allowed to live on the farm.

Themes of friendship and selflessness are present throughout the story. Ultimately, Fern and Charlotte save Wilbur’s life. “Charlotte’s Web” makes it clear anyone can be friends, whether they walk on two, four or eight legs. Charlotte works tirelessly until her death to save Wilbur, showing true selflessness. “Charlotte’s Web” is one of the only stories with the ability to make one cry about a spider’s death.

This tale is not a new one. The classic children’s novel, written by E.B. White, was originally published in 1952. Movies followed the book, the most recent a live-action in 2006.

Charles Strouse’s musical adaptation has a large history to follow, and met its challenge adding music to a story that is already seamless without. Some numbers were abrupt and didn’t add motion to the story. None of the musical numbers proved catchy enough to stick.

However, thanks to the youthful energy brought by a cast that included 38 children, “Charlotte’s Web” as presented downtown was fresh enough to hold attention. Dettinger, Johnson and Schultz possessed stage confidence well past their years. They executed their solos with precision and clear voices.

Keegan Luedtke’s portrayal of Templeton the rat was spot-on. Luedtke was able to capture the rat’s self-absorbed swagger and provided great comic relief.

Theatre-goer Jill Preston came to watch her niece, Gretchen Preston, perform. She said the play was “very entertaining” and was impressed with the set and costumes.

“I have to say that Templeton stole the show,” Preston said.

At its core, the musical version of “Charlotte’s Web” is still the same heartwarming story that has survived decades. Its sunny optimism is refreshing for a viewer of any age.

Upcoming productions by Eau Claire Children’s Theatre are “Go Dog. Go!,” April 28-May 5; “Avenue Q,” May 10-19; and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” July 25-29. Tickets can be purchased online or in person.