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An 8-year-old reviews First Stage’s production of ‘The Hobbit’

An actor in dirty clothing puts his hand on the shoulder of a younger castmate wearing goggles on top of his head and a leather satchel.
First Stage / Paul Ruffolo
(From left) Angel Rivera as Bilbo, Matt Daniels as Thorin and Elyse Edelman as Balin in First Stage's production of "The Hobbit."

First Stage opened The Hobbit last week, its latest offering geared toward — as its mission states — young people and families. With that in mind, we enlisted the help of someone from the target audience who’s familiar with critiquing things (dinner options, requests to turn off the lights after he leaves a room, etc.), although this will be his first time doing so in writing.

Yesterday we went to the hobbit. I just saw the movies so I wanted to compare the movies and the play. To start, the play is really funny and great for kids and they will like it. The movies are way more violent and they are good for anyone that knows violence is not ok. The play is way more fun in my opinion. It also has a great lesson: Don’t be greedy and don’t fight back when others are trying to help you.

Another thing I liked is the creativity. The main room was round with a balcony for the musician. On the stage, there was a chair, broken bookshelf, and boxes to climb on. They used the things around them to make a dark forest and made spiders using umbrellas.

The actors were also creative by acting as many different characters. They changed their costumes very fast and used lots of different voices.

I really liked the hobbit, so please watch it and tell other people.

— Calvin Krzykowski (age 8)

The 'grown-up' agrees

I’m happy to second those sentiments. This production was built from the ground up for a younger, theater-curious audience — especially if fantasy stories are their thing. The story is easy to follow, there’s a little bit of non-invasive audience interaction to keep everyone engaged, and the creativity is dialed up in a way that’ll connect with kids.

In the post-show chat, the cast pointed out that their use of everyday objects for everything from weapons (a tennis racket) to troll costumes (bubble wrap) was intentional. It gives the entire production a “playing pretend” quality so the kids in the audience could go home and battle their own goblin army.

Playing is exactly what the cast was doing, too, injecting the level of energy you need in a relatively small space with a relatively young audience. As Bilbo and the only student member of the cast, Leo Madson shouldered a heavy load as both main character and narrator, carrying it with ease as his castmates slid in and out of different characters (and costumes) without missing a trick.

The Hobbit runs through March 5 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, including a “Pay What You Choose Performance” this Friday, Feb. 10. You can find the full schedule, ticket information and more on the First Stage website.