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It’s ending with a rabbit. It’ll start up again with a spider and a pig.
We’re talking, of course, about the lineup at Children’s Theatre of Madison. (What did you think we were talking about?) CTM wraps its current season this weekend with the final three performances of “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” a creative stage imagining of Kate DiCamillo’s classic book about a lost china rabbit’s journey of self-discovery.
“This is a wonderful adaptation of the book,” says CTM Artistic Director Roseann Sheridan. “It’s an epic adventure, but it’s also very poignant. There are some harsh realities faced.”
Instead of a human actor costumed as Edward, the rabbit is represented by actors holding a series of ornately crafted rabbit-doll props reflecting Edward’s changes of costume as he experiences his various adventures. The audience hears Edward’s inner-monologue reactions through the voice of a narrator, played by Clare Arena Haden. Sheridan likens this approach to Ebenezer Scrooge’s flashbacks in “a Christmas Carol” without being able to directly affect what he sees happening.
“Edward Tulane” wraps up an unusually musical-heavy season for CTM — the company staged three rather than its usual two, although the second of the three, a production of the off-Broadway adaptation of “Tuck Everlasting” was easily the season’s high point.
“It was extremely ambitious and expensive for us,” admits Sheridan of the production. “But it also featured so many of the elements we strive to bring together — strong production values and a mix of professional and community talent. We even had a live orchestra, something we haven’t done since ‘A Fiddler on the Roof.’”
Other pieces of the season also came together well. The company’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” set attendance records, says Sheridan. More important, it wasn’t impacted by having to go up against the traveling Broadway musical production of “Dr. Seuss: The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” which also played in the Overture Center during December.
Where 2017-18 was largely about the musical, CTM’s 2018-19 season is a mix of the familiar and the unusual.
Next October, CTM will kick things off with “Charlotte’s Web,” the familiar tale of a young pig saved by a clever and uber-literate spider. Following the annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” in December — and it’s going to run three weekends instead of two, a testament to the show’s growing popularity — CTM will stage “How I Became a Pirate,” a nautically themed musical aimed at the company’s younger audiences.
And then things get really interesting.
“We have at least one title in our season that I don’t think anybody knows,” says Sheridan. “At some point, you have to trust new works. But you’re definitely taking a risk when you do that.”
The risk comes in the form of CTM’s annual young-adult slot: In 2019, it’ll be “Tibet Through the Red Box,” the 2004 stage adaptation of Peter Sis’s 1998 book based on his memories of his father’s experiences as a documentary filmmaker in China and Tibet during the 1950s. (The red box refers to the container in which the author’s father kept his diary.) Sheridan’s planning to use the production to partner with and highlight Madison’s own Tibetan population, potentially reaching a new audience in the process.
“It’s a really beautiful play,” she says. “But I also know that everybody’s gonna go, ‘What?’”
Shock won’t be the reaction to the show that’ll close the 2018-19 season about a year from now. It’s another musical, based on an extremely familiar book (and movie): “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
Tickets for the 2018-19 season go on sale later this month.
Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.
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