Everything you need to know about the latest Children's Theatre production is there in the title: Babe, the Sheep Pig. If you've seen the 1995 film adaptation, you may be a step or two ahead of the game. If you haven't, the title pretty much brings you up to speed. While the story, based on the late Dick King-Smith's classic children's book, may seem simple at first—pig becomes sheepdog—there's a lot going on. This is a story about unusual friendships and looking beneath the surface.
If you have young kids, it's a great way to get out of the house in the deep winter for a fun afternoon or evening. Even without kids, it's a great little escape. Much of that is due to the 10-actor company, led by the always-impressive Dean Holt in the title role.
An extremely gifted physical comic and performer, Holt puts his skills to great effect as Babe. Padded out and dressed in pink, he makes a great representation of a pig. It's his actions that sell the character, from the stubby run he employs while herding the sheep to the way he gobbles food whenever it's set in front of him. When agitated, Holt bounces around the stage, almost literally; he's wearing a lot of padding to get the right shape.
Babe, the Sheep Pig
Children's Theatre Company
Through Feb. 27; 612.874.0400
The script gives us a fairly slight tale, mainly about Babe's rise from potential dinner to a champion "sheep-pig." Holt brings the audience along on his character's journey, growing up as time passes but never losing Babe's essential innocence.
The staging hints at the animals with costumes and makeup, but it is up to the actors to bring them to life. It's not just Holt but the entire company—be they dog, sheep, cat, or rooster—that makes the best of the opportunity. Mo Perry brings out all the warmth she needs as Fly, the motherly sheepdog who befriends Babe. Like Holt, she brings humanity to her character but never loses sight of the animal within.
Reed Sigmund usually performs as a comic force of nature, but here he embraces the stoic Englishness of Babe's owner, Farmer Hogget. It's a credit to Sigmund that a character who speaks so little is able to convey so much, including his love of the animals on the farm and his eventual bonding with his most-unusual pig. Elizabeth Griffith is equally effective as the farmer's wife. Unlike Sigmund, Griffith is able to showcase every emotion right on the surface, from a desire to fatten up our main character for yummy pork chops to her growing love for the pig after he saves the sheep's figurative (and his own literal) bacon on more than one occasion.
Elsewhere, the ensemble has a great time bringing life to the whole barnyard, especially during Babe's first adventures there, as he is hassled by a rooster, a cat, a litter of puppies, and just about everything else he encounters. The moment becomes an epic adventure for the young pig, which Holt plays to perfection.
The adaptation, by David Wood, isn't shy about the realities of life on a farm. While the farmer and his wife are kindly souls, they are still raising animals for food—Babe especially. That changes once his value as a sheep-pig is seen, but death is still a specter here. That's clear at the dark end of the first act, when Babe's brave actions cannot save the old sheep, Ma, who has befriended him.
Director Peter Brosius handles this all with a delicate hand, making sure the reality is there but never letting it overwhelm the gentle story. Sonya Berlovitz's costumes and Eric J. Van Wyk's sets are also essential pieces of the puzzle, creating the reality of the farm and the whimsy of the story in equal measures. Combine all of that with the strong work of the actors, led by Holt's discovery of his own inner pig, and you have a real delight of a show.