Based on the novel by Michael Ende, the stage version of "The Neverending Story" bares only a minimal resemblance to the 80s cult-classic movie of the same name, but the CATCO is Kids production about a fantasy world being destroyed by a lack of imagination, offers its audience plenty of opportunity to let their imagination run wild.
The show features 25 very talented children from all over Central Ohio in a production performed by kids, for kids. It tells the story of Bastian Bux (Jude Binkley), a young boy whose mother has recently died, who escapes the bullies (Stella Fried, Lindsey Butler, and Caroline Bloomfield) and his distant father (Buddy Frontz) by locking himself in his school's attic with a stolen fantasy novel, "The Neverending Story". As Bastian begins to read, he is drawn into the plot, desperate to see its hero- a young girl in this version- Atreyu (Emma Fullen), save the parallel world of Fantastica from being swallowed in its entirety by the Nothing. The production takes place on a tiny stage, which lends itself well to being devoured by the black fabric expanse of the Nothing, a difficult task in the stage production, which requires a fair amount of audience imagination to accomplish none-the-less.
In fact, the entire production is filled with rather difficult staging- a flying Luck Dragon- Falkor (Jules Zimmerman), Atreyu's horse Artax (Claire O'Shaughnessy) drowning in quicksand, a buffalo hunt on the plains, and elaborate settings from another dimension. Set designer, Edith Dinger Watkins wins by going to the opposite extreme, relying largely on audience imagination and a nearly blank stage, comprised almost entirely of images on a screen and equally sparse props. The simplicity of the set plays nicely off of the quite elaborate costumes of Ruth Ann Wheeler, including a purple buffalo, a gigantic spider, the Luck Dragon, and a quite creative wire-framed horse head for Artax.
Director, Liz Wheeler makes some delightful casting choices as Jude Binkley's Bastian is the right mix of enthusiastic anticipation of the story unfolding, twinged with just the right undertones of sadness to make his character's escape into Fantastica plausible. Emma Fullen as Atreyu is wonderful- quite polished as well for such a young performer- spunky, with just the right amount of tentative confidence in the young warrior she plays, and a stage presence well beyond her years. Wheeler's choice of a girl as Atreyu plays well as Fullen brings a bit of tenderness to the role that is unexpected and a nice surprise. Atreyu's horse sidekick, Artax, played by Claire O'Shaughnessy is well portrayed also, and the rapport between her character and Fullen's Atreyu is evident.
Along the Great Quest to save Fantastica, Atreyu encounters several interesting characters. Notable scenes include Atreyu meeting the giant spider, Ygramul (Sydney Friend) and her spider babies (Olivia Delffs, Rayli Boyd, Aujolie Carter, and Corrine Gorgas), and some of the funniest moments of the show occur during Atreyu's meeting with Professor Engywook (Toby Hattemer) and his wife, Urgl (Bella Glaser). Falkor, the Luck Dragon, played by Jules Zimmerman, also brings a nice energy to an otherwise fairly somber show. With a total running time of about an hour, the plot clips by rather quickly, and at times seems to jump abruptly, but the pace should serve younger audience members well.
Not only is it a great theater experience in its own right, it is so empowering for children to see this many others their age on a "real" stage- this show is perfect for any budding performer in your life. CATCO is Kids, "The Neverending Story" provides another super opportunity for families in Central Ohio to turn the t.v. off, skip the movies, and come remember how brilliantly live theater activates the imagination of child and adult alike.
Will Bastian save Fantastica in time? Come down to the Shedd Theater at The Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Avenue, Columbus, 43215, and see for yourself as CATCO is Kids presents the Neverending Story, Fridays, Dec. 7th and 14th at 7:30pm, Saturdays, Dec. 8th and 15th at 2:30pm, and Sundays, Dec. 9th and 16th at 2:30pm. All seats are $5 each and tickets can be reserved by calling 614-469-0939. Additional information can be found at: http://www.catco.org/shows/2012-2013/the-neverending-story
PHOTO CREDIT: CATCO