The production is the directorial debut of Jack White, who recently moved to Albuquerque. White brings a variety of theatrical experiences to the stage, including a BFA, ten years at Warner Bros., teaching high school theatre, and running a private acting and modeling academy. He seems to have successfully wrangled a cast comprised mostly of children and teens, a task that is not always easy. The young performers, for the most part, have good onstage chemistry and comedic timing (adults beware, most of the jokes are fairly slapstick, but only because that's what kids find funny). In spite of the sometimes stilted or overly enunciated linesareas that will improve as the young performers progress in the theatrethey're clearly having fun, which makes the performance more fun for the audience to watch.
There are some blocking elements that don't quite make sense. For instance, in one scene Bilbo helps his comrades escape imprisonment by hiding in empty barrels, which just so happen to be sitting inside the prison cell for their convenience. He then helps some of the dwarves into the barrels but fails to roll them off to safety before escaping himself, leaving a logical gap in the scene.
Ryan Pennington is Bilbo Baggins, our bumbling and unwilling hero. Pennington successfully captures Bilbo's nervousness, insecurity, and immense love for creature comforts like second breakfasts and a hot bowl of soup, but my initial impression was that he looked too young to play Tolkien's protagonist, making comments about being unfit for adventures "at my age" seem out of place. Perhaps Pennington's youthfulness makes him more relatable to young audiences, but I would have appreciated seeing Bilbo's eccentricities applied to an older portrayal of the character. That said, Pennington does what he does well and adds great energy to his role and to the performance at large.
Atom Gorelick stands out as Thorin, leader of the motley crew of dwarves. Thorin seeks to reclaim his royal inheritance of treasure that lies in the Lonely Mountain and is guarded by Smaug, an evil dragon. Gorelick brings impressive credentials, as a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles, and it shows. He has a strong and captivating stage presence that suits the determined, sometimes selfishly motivated leadership of his character (not to mention that he has the best costume of all the dwarves). Chad Terry plays a sufficiently creepy Gollum, aided by costuming and lighting effects, and fans of The Lord of the Rings will appreciate Terry's apt imitation of Andy Serkis' now-famous voice that he developed for the role in Peter Jackson's films. There were moments I wanted Terry to be even creepier, to crawl around more instead of intermittently standing upright. Overall, though, he gives a memorable performance, especially considering that he is only in one scene.
The technical elements of the production deserve acknowledgment as well, particularly for the finale scene. Skillful lighting, smoke, audio, and prop design impressively manage the difficulty of having a giant dragon onstage.
The Hobbit is playing through September 30th at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW. Performances are Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $10 for ages 12 and under, $15 for ages 13 and up, and may be purchased at albuquerquelittletheatre.org or by calling 505-242-4750, ext. 2.