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A musical Middle Earth

Chip Ellis
(From left) Joshua Brennan, Dawson Eagle and Henry Leef are among the cast of more than 40 local children in the Children's Theatre of Charleston's production of the Tolkein-approved musical "The Hobbit." The show, which also features a live orchestra, opens Friday at the Civic Center Little Theater.

WANT TO GO?

"The Hobbit"

Presented by Children's Theatre of Charleston

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Civic Center Little Theater

COST: Adults $12, students $10 INFO: 304-346-0164 or www.ctoc.org

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There is something perfect about the Children's Theatre of Charleston staging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit." Who better to convey the magic and courage of Middle Earth's smallest citizens than children?

Tim Mace directs a team of young actors as Bilbo Baggins and a band of dwarves on their classic quest to claim a treasure guarded by the evil dragon, Smaug. Gandalf, Gollum, elves, goblins, trolls and spiders round out a cast of more than 40 children ages 6 to 14. A true musical production, the production has 15 musical pieces and is the only stage script and musical score approved by Tolkien.

Mace said this is one of the most faithful adaptations of any work he has ever seen and thinks that must be what earned it Tolkien's blessing.

"It doesn't dumb it down, and that is so common in children's plays," he said. "I am drawn to this play specifically because it doesn't belittle the audience.

"I'll never forget seeing a production of 'Snow White' where the dwarves were not called dwarves, and no one died. It was the most bizarre retelling of anything I'd ever seen. When you have good defeating evil for the right purposes, I don't know what's wrong with that."

"I think we cast this really well," said musical director Mark Scarpelli. "We decided we were going to cast no adults. Orchestra members are adults, and there are two adult voices for Smaug, but every character on stage is a kid."

Going with an all-child cast was a mental hurdle for Scarpelli at first.

"When I first read this script, I told Tim we had to have an adult as Gollum. I couldn't see a kid doing that. Gandalf, too, is this warrior persona, but Timmy and Joshua are doing phenomenal jobs with these characters."

That would be Timmy Walker, 12, who plays Gollum, and Joshua Brennan, 14, who plays Gandalf. Timmy has his costume airbrushed on, and Joshua carries an enormous staff throughout the entire performance.

"It's heavy, and it's pretty long," said Brennan. "I can't really put it down, even backstage."

One of the challenges with Gollum was transitioning from a singing voice to a slimy, raspy, whispery speaking voice and back again.

"We cast some kids who could really sing and project, and now we're working with them to work a character into that because they have to be dwarves, and they have to be goblins, and you know goblins, they really don't sing well," laughed Scarpelli.

Scarpelli has served as musical director for several Children's Theatre shows. This is the first time he has worked with live orchestra accompaniment, though.

"We've got flutes and violins and clarinets and drums and bass. It takes it to another level," he said. "I think the kids experience something special. It's not like singing to karaoke."

Mace is amazed by the multi-generational and ongoing attachment people have for Tolkien's work.

"One of reasons has got to be that Bilbo Baggins is such a delightful character. He's so ordinary to be so extraordinary," said Mace. "He is so warm, he's loving, he's scared, he has a good heart and when he finally agrees to go to help the 13 dwarves, it's because he feels wrong has been done to them."

Dawson Eagle, 12, plays the role of reluctant hero Bilbo Baggins. Scarpelli said seeing Eagle develop over time into his character has been a highlight of his backstage involvement with the show.

Soft-spoken and excitable, Eagle smiled continuously when he said he "loves" his role. "I really like being Bilbo because I'm a big 'Hobbit' and 'Lord of the Rings' fan. I understand him; I'm not that adventurous myself. I'm really excited for this opportunity."

Children and adults can expect to experience a performance that will thrill and delight.

"It's got magic. It's got dragons. It's got very funny parts, real excitement scenes. Smaug and Gollum are so creepy and mysterious," said Mace. "I do want the children in the audience to be unnerved by it all. That's part of the magic that may encourage a child to go on and read the 'Lord of the Rings' series."

Reach Elizabeth Gaucher at elizabeth.gaucher@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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