SPRING HILL — From the first words "some pig" to the final "humble" spun into a web, Charlotte's Web is a classic story about friendship and love between a pig and the spider that saves him from the butcher.
The award-winning story by E.B. White has captured the hearts of generations, from when the novel was first published in 1952, to the 1973 animated film that featured Debbie Reynolds as Charlotte, and most recently with the 2006 major motion picture that included the voices of some of Hollywood's top stars, including Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey and Robert Redford.
Tonight, Wilbur, Charlotte and the rest of the barnyard friends will come alive with the opening of the children's production of Charlotte's Web at Stage West Community Playhouse.
The musical is directed by Jennifer Vilardi, who has performed in a number of shows since joining Stage West in 2003 and directed Everything in the Garden earlier this year. Her directorial debut was another children's production two years ago, Willie Wonka Jr.
"Jennifer is wonderful with the children," said Stage West president Barbara Everest. "It's amazing to watch her."
Many in the cast of 25 are about 5 to 7 years old, but the actors range up to 12 years old. Although she has directed children in the past, Vilardi said Charlotte's Web has been more of a challenge.
"It's a lot different," she said. "In Willie Wonka, (the kids) were older and more experienced. About 75 percent of this cast has never been on stage, so I've had to start from scratch."
The show follows the same story line as the novel and movies. Wilbur, the runt of a litter of pigs, is saved from the ax by a young girl named Fern. When Wilbur grows too big to stay with Fern, he is sent to live on the Zuckermans' farm.
At the farm, Wilbur befriends Charlotte, a spider. When Wilbur's life is again in peril, the intelligent Charlotte decides to make him famous, by spinning words in her web, including "some pig," "terrific," "radiant" and "humble."
The only difference, Vilardi said, is the Stage West show includes singing and dancing. Some of the musical numbers include Nice to Meet You, Who Says We Can't Be Friends and Don't.
The show features 8-year-old Holly Frendberg as Wilbur. While fairly new to the stage, Holly performed in the Stage West production of The King and I in 2009.
Starring as Charlotte is Dallas Carey, 13, who, for Stage West, played Veruca Salt in Willie Wonka Jr. and was part of the ensemble in Fiddler on the Roof. Dallas, who's entering eighth grade at Powell Middle School this fall, performed as Miss Hannigan in the musical Annie Jr. at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa in late May.
Other performers include Siera Gargulio as Fern and Rachel Grace Bedard, both 11. The girls have performed in productions at Chocachatti Elementary School, Vilardi said, adding: "This is the first time Siera has been in a lead role and the first time in a musical."
Costumes were made by Donna Alagna. The choreographer is Michelle Alagna, and the music director is Steven Schildbach.
"It's really coming together well," Vilardi said.
And about her cast's inexperience, she said: "It's a little trickier, but it's so rewarding in the end."
"The little ones are just adorable to watch," Everest said.