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By Terri Wells
Like me, you may have read George Orwell's Animal Farm in high school and found it to be one of the most depressing books ever. Do not let that stop you from going to see the Moonlight Players' musical adaptation of the book.

Yes, it is true to the book, which means this musical does not have a happy ending. But the actors bring the book's characters truly to life, and their emotional trials and songs will reach your heart even as the cautionary tale challenges your mind.

For those not familiar with the plot, "Animal Farm" tells the story of what happens when the animals on a farm rebel against the farmer because he has been getting drunk and not taking proper care of them.

They now all run the farm themselves, working to bring in the harvest for themselves, overseen by the pigs, who seem the most knowledgeable about how to get things done.

Orwell had intended his story to be a dark satire on the Russian revolution and communism, but there are elements to this tale that are relevant to nearly any time and place, including here and today.

The rebellion was inspired a few months before it happened by Old Major, an aged boar who has a dream of animals living and working together without humans. He inspires the rest of the farmyard with a song he learned in his youth, "Beasts of England," and dies three days later.

Three eloquent pigs, Snowball, Squealer, and Napoleon,develop Old Major's ideas into a belief system called "Animalism," and keep the animals inspired. "No man, no master, all animals are equal," they sing.

Once the revolution happens, these pigs basically take control of the situation and prevent things from degenerating into chaos. They help see the animals through their first year as free citizens, bringing in the harvest and keeping themselves fed.

But all is not well even on the first day after the rebellion. After the cows are milked, the pigs drink it all, mixing it with their food so they can keep fed and keep their brains working "for the good of everybody" and to prevent Farmer Jones from returning. This act turns out to be the first of many betrayals, great and small, by the pigs.

Still, all seems to go well for a while, with all of the animals voting on ideas and changes to be brought to the farm. Snowball and Napoleon often disagree, however, with Napoleon, a practical pig, a pig of few words, being very conservative.

It all comes to a head over Snowball's proposal to build a windmill, thus bringing electricity to the farm and easing everyone's labor. Three puppies that Napoleon has been secretly raising chase Snowball off the farm.

From that point, things degenerate by stages into a dictatorship, but the process has been so gradual, and the animals have been so busy working, and on relatively little food, that by the time they realize there is no longer any significant difference between the pigs and the humans, it is far too late.

There were a number of outstanding performances in this cast. Collin Wallman plays Boxer, the cart horse who loyally gives everything he has to the revolution, and is ill served thereby.

Wallman's Boxer comes across rounded enough that you truly feel for him when he falls from overwork, and like Clover, you keep hoping that he will see beyond his two mottoes: "I will work harder" and "Napoleon is always right."

Lavonte Rogers as Benjamin, the donkey, gives perhaps the strongest performance of the supporting characters. He truly captures the character's cynicism. This donkey sees through what the pigs are doing; he knows he worked hard when the humans were in control, and is working hard now, so how much difference is there pre- and post-revolution?

But he can't do anything to change things with this piece of wisdom, and his rage and frustration are never too far from the surface. I'm looking forward to seeing Rogers in more roles.

All three actors playing the main pigs delivered strong performances. Brea Labanoski as Snowball made her Moonlight Players debut, but is no stranger to the stage, and it shows.

By turns demanding and idealistic, Labanoski's Snowball is always emphatic in defense of the revolution and building and preserving the future of the farm, even in the hope of bringing revolution to other farms. From her performance, it is easy to understand why most of the animals shared in Snowball's dreams.

Marni Ann Whitehead as Squealer comes into her own after Napoleon takes over, becoming the ultimate spinmaster, one that even spins a clear defeat into a victory, spins Snowball into a traitor, and more.

You will appreciate Whitehead's smooth persuasiveness and its effect on the rest of the animals. And you will love to hate Thomas Kline as Napoleon; his "Runt of the Litter" is not to be missed.

Other standouts in the cast include Veronica Martinez as Mollie, the horse who leaves the revolution early on; Shannon Wallman, a cat who would play both sides against the middle, yet cares about her comrades; and the hens, who add humor in the first act, and passion and pathos in the second.

Of course, special mention must be made of Denise Truscott as Clover, a horse and good friend to both Boxer and Benjamin. We cry with her when Squealer tells of Boxer's death, and feel her anger when she finally realizes that "This is not what we wanted."

Jillienne Riethmiller as the narrator also deserves special mention, for giving us the timeline and some of the background that we would not have had otherwise.

This is a musical, of course, so there is a lot of singing, and all of it is quite well done. Aside from the pieces I've already mentioned, I especially enjoyed Mollie's sweet song, and the various duets. You will not be singing any of these songs when you leave, but you won't necessarily forget them, either.

I would not recommend bringing any children younger than 13 to this show, not because of adult language, so much, as that the concepts it deals with may be difficult to grasp for anyone younger.

"Animal Farm" will be running from now through November 23. Tickets are $18, or $15 for students. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 2:30pm.

The Moonlight Players Warehouse Theater is located at 733 Minneola Avenue in Historic Downtown Clermont. You can call 352-319-1116 to make a reservation. You can find the Moonlight Players online at moonlightplayers.com.


Cast members listen to director David Ricklick during dress rehearsal for the current production of Animal Farm. The show runs through November 23. (Photo by Mike Corradino)
Moonlight Player's Animal Farm review
Moonlight Players' "Animal Farm" is an intense, emotional, thought provoking, and cautionary tale
Moonlight Players' Animal Farm review

 

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