Wilbur, the lovable piglet with the unlikely but wise and winsome spider friend named Charlotte, is back on stage this season in downtown Phoenix.
Childsplay presents “Charlotte’s Web” on weekends Sept. 2-Oct. 14 at its new home in the Herberger Theater Center. Currently entering its 42nd season, Childsplay has performed at Herberger in the past, but is now a full-time resident theater company.
“We are thrilled to be back performing at this beautiful theater complex and so happy to be joining the Center’s wonderful family of resident companies,” says Dwayne Hartford, Childsplay’s artistic director.
Hartford says the city of Tempe’s new arts plan called for more programming for adults at Tempe Center for the Arts, where Childsplay had been performing since 2007.
“The city told Childsplay that the number of weeks we were performing at the TCA were going to be cut almost in half,” Hartford says. “During this time, we learned the Herberger Theater Center had the room to accommodate us and our season. We loved performing in that state-of-the-art facility in the past, and with the revitalization of downtown Phoenix, the decision to relocate to HTC — while never our original desire or intention — ultimately was an easy one to make.”
He notes that nearby attractions can add to the experience of attending a downtown theater performance.
“With the Children’s Museum of Phoenix and the Arizona Science Center right there, along with other cultural events and institutions, and many, many dining options, our audiences will be able to make a whole family day in downtown Phoenix when they come to see a Childsplay performance.”
To open the new season, “Charlotte’s Web” seemed the perfect choice.
“‘Charlotte’s Web’ is one of our audiences’ all-time favorite shows,” says Hartford. “It’s a beautiful story that we happen to tell very well. It felt right to celebrate the move with a production of this fantastic play.”
Adapted by Joseph Robinette, the show is based on the classic children’s book by E.B. White. David Saar, Childsplay’s founder, directs a talented cast that includes Debra K. Stevens as Charlotte and Thomas Strawser as Wilbur.
A longtime Childsplay associate artist, Stevens is reprising the role of Charlotte for the fifth time. “I am glad to still have the legs and knees to pull it off,” she jokes.
“I love portraying Charlotte, as she is so ingenious and creative — she is a problem solver,” Stevens says. “She is a terrific and fiercely loyal friend, which is something I value very highly in my own life. My favorite line from the play is ‘…you have been my friend, and that in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you. After all, what is a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little, and we die. By helping you, perhaps I was lifting up my own life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little bit of that.’ I love being able to communicate that sentiment to our audiences.”
Stevens says her web writing is always a challenge, but especially so this time because the web has been in David Saar’s backyard since the last production, and the elements have taken a toll on the color-coded pegs that guide her. It’s “kind of like a dot-to-dot game,” Stevens says.
This is Strawser’s first time playing Wilbur. “I love Wilbur’s zeal for life even when he faces an uncertain future,” he says. “I love his willingness to grow both inside and out. And I love his faithfulness to his friends, especially Charlotte.”
Strawser says families “will love the story of friendship and giving. They are going to love the characters, either for the first time or all over again. And they will definitely love the playfulness and heart that everyone brings to the show.”
“Charlotte’s Web” is recommended for ages 5 and up. But whether you’re 5 or 50 — or any other age — this timeless story about life, empathy and the power of friendship is sure to resonate.
If you go: Weekends Sept. 2-Oct. 14; $12 Storybook Preview 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2. Opening performance 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7; 1 and 4 p.m. Saturdays; 1 p.m. most Sundays. ASL performance 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14. The Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St. $12-$30. 602-252-8497 or childsplayaz.org or 602-252-8497 or herbergertheater.org