"Charlotte's Web" is adored by both kids and adults, and the director for a Chicago production of the classic children's story has taken that to heart by casting kids as key characters.
"I definitely had some eyes bulging when I said that I wanted young people to play certain roles," said Emerald City Theatre director Ernie Nolan.
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"Charlotte's Web"Location: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, (773) 529-2690, www.emeraldcitytheatre.com
Showtimes: 10 a.m. Friday through Sunday, with additional 10 a.m. shows July 29 and Aug. 7. Runs through Aug. 17.
Tickets: Start at $24
For the show, now at The Broadway Playhouse in Chicago, Nolan cast both adults and children to stay as true to E.B. White's story as possible. Seventh-grader Liam Dahlborn, for example, stars as Wilbur, the lonely piglet who befriends spider Charlotte in his new barnyard home.
He is joined onstage by his sister Lily Dahlborn, a fifth-grader who plays a spectator and Charlotte's daughter. Seventh-grader Avery Moss stars as Fern, the farm girl who saves runt Wilbur from slaughter, setting the story in motion.
"Having young people in the cast as well as adults has been inspiring," Nolan said. "Young people definitely have energy and a carefree spirit."
All three of the young actors are students at the Emerald City Theatre School, and Nolan said he wanted to put what they have been training for onstage. They previously appeared in Emerald City's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
"We have done age-appropriate casting in the past," Nolan said. "I wanted to continue that momentum."
The adults and kids play off each other at rehearsal and onstage.
The adults bring a maturity to the process, Nolan said, and the kids help keep some magic and a sense of adventure in the air.
"Our young people are just around 10 years old, so inhibitions really haven't set in yet," Nolan laughed. "I love their carefree, full-hearted commitment to everything that they do."
Nolan said that audience members can expect a lot of humor -- so much so that sometimes the young cast members can't help but crack up onstage.
"The jokes in the show are like the funniest thing they've ever heard," Nolan said. "There are a couple of times when we know the jokes are coming and I'm like 'stay in character, stay in character.'"