note: entire contents copyright 1998 by Beverly Creasey
South Africa-born writer J.R.R.Tolkein believed that "fairy tales give us a catch of breath, a lifting heart, and tears as keen as any other form of literature." Generations of children have adored the adventures of "The Hobbit" so it's no surprise that Wheelock Family Theatre is staging Director James Byrnes' adaptation of the Tolkein classic, using dozens of local school children in the majority of the roles.
Hobbit-lovers like my five year old companion will recognize the familiar characters instantly. The rest of us may have a little trouble sorting out all the chaos onstage as fairies battle dwarves and flying spiders for territory and treasure.
The charmingly domestic, hairy-footed hobbit Bilbo Baggins is played by a twelve-year-old dynamo named William Dunn. Aiding and abetting Bilbo is a spunky Lizzie Owens as the dragon-slaying dwarf Thorin. Trying to thwart poor Bilbo are three hilariously unpleasant trolls, portrayed by Wheelock veterans Jane Staab, Bobbie Steinbach and Cheryl McMahon. (McMahon later has an adorable bit of business with John Davin and some disappearing wine.) Mimi Jo Katano is the evil Gollum and Gamalia Pharms is the Elvin Queen. Orchestrating all the mayhem with great aplomb is Mansur as the magical wizard Gandalf.
Byrne also designed the spectacular Wagnerian set: mountains fit for the Hall of the Mountain King (complete with Grieg accompaniment), caves, and rivers for finding the magic ring (shades of the "Ring" cycle) --- and yes, we get snatches of Siegfried and the Valkyries. Even the fairies get a little Mendelssohn --- which focused me back on the set. With Ryss Swift's gorgeous lighting on those misty blue mountains, I thought Brunhilde might ride in on her mighty steed. Well, no Brunhilde appeared but a nifty red-eyed dragon (by Rich Archer) made a significant appearance ... which makes you want to re-read Tolkien as soon as you get home!