Starting on Saturday, Other Voices at the Performing Arts Factory in Frederick will present a live musical version of the beloved children’s book, “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White.
“It’s a book that was one of my favorite books when I was young,” said Susan Thornton, who adapted the script and directs the play. “It thrills me that it’s still such a popular book because it’s such a fabulous story about friendship.”
“It’s really cool because I grew up with this book and I think it’s really cool that I’m playing one of my favorite characters,” said Hailey Catron, who plays Wilbur. “And I get to play that for other kids.”
Catron, 15, is a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School. This is her first show with Other Voices.
Thornton said “Charlotte’s Web,” the story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a wise spider named Charlotte, has remained an important piece of children’s literature because of its message about friendship and its message about loss.
“A lot of the time, it’s [the child’s] first experience having to say goodbye to someone,” said Thornton.
The challenge with staging such a well-known and well-liked novel like “Charlotte’s Web,” is attempting to find a balance between staying true to the original version and having the story translate in a live performance, according to the director.
“You don’t want the stage show to get too long so you have to cut some, and that’s always challenging,” Thornton said. “It’s always my goal to try and capture moments in the book that are going to be memorable to people ... get key characters in there, key moments that will stand out in people’s minds. A lot of times, I’m pulling dialogue directly from the book.”
Despite the challenge, musical director Cathie Porter-Borden said “the script played pretty true to the story.”
Porter-Borden said she and Thornton have collaborated on “at least two dozen musicals by now.”
While the process varies depending on the show, Porter-Borden said Thornton typically sends her an outline of the production including where she envisions songs in the script and a theme for the music. The outline might change from show to show, but what never changes is what Porter-Borden does next.
“My dad starts writing some lyrics,” Porter-Borden said. “Mostly in the form of poems.”
Since she started writing music for Thornton’s shows, Porter-Borden said her 90-year-old father, Leon Borden, has served as her lyricist.
“Dad is always writing poems,” said Porter-Borden. “Usually the words come first ... and then I just experiment [with them] on the piano.”
Porter-Borden has a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s from the Shenandoah Conservatory, now Shenandoah University. When she’s not busy collaborating on a show with Thornton, Porter-Borden teaches voice lessons in the Frederick area. Porter-Borden said she never composed music for children’s theater prior to working with Other Voices.
“The only composing I ever did was some composing on the guitar, some folk music,” Porter-Borden said. But as she’s gained more experience writing with Other Voices, Porter-Borden said she’s picked up a few pointers about writing songs for young audiences.
“I learned that I have to have a good chorus for children’s theater,” Porter-Borden said. “I like to have something that someone can take home and sing ... if the cast goes home singing the songs, I know I’ve done my job.”
For “Charlotte’s Web,” Porter-Borden said much of the music focuses on the message of friendship, including an up-tempo song called “Friends,” and the importance of believing in yourself.
“The overall theme is you are who you think you are,” said Porter-Borden. “You can create who you want to be. The words you speak about yourself [are] who you are. I think that’s a good strong message for children.”