Yesterday I read Charlotte's Web again and, for the first time, the adaptation by Joseph Robinette.
E.B. White's novel presents the darkness and light of human experience from birth to death through the hours, days, seasons, years. Its presents ways of knowing beyond science and religion. It honours language by making Charlotte a writer and everybody else a reader. It illustrates the constraints we live within and the wonders that can release us. It offers characters of mystery and depth and profound simplicity. It does all this with wit, with love, and with exquisitely quiet prose that utterly rehabilitates the worn-out sentiments of trust, friendship, terror, hope, and despair.
I want to adapt the story not to change it, but to present it in a new way: sung, danced, staged. My assumption, as I've said in this blog before, is that the power of White's novel would be enhanced by the power of musical theatre.
There's little magic in the Robinette adaptation. It reads like a mediocre sitcom, or mediocre MGM drama circa 1948. It attempts to accommodate as many moments from the novel as possible. In doing so, it flattens the magic.
If I'm going to pursue my adaptation and, say, apply to an arts granting agency for funding, I would make my case along the lines sketched in this blog entry. I would say "adapt" does not mean simply "change the story." In this case, it means change the medium in which the story is presented. (Even at that, changes are made: selection of details, revising dated racial or gender references, inserting bits of my own brand of wit and wisdom (if any).) It means making the case for musical theatre which, for me, comes from this simple realization: that the deepest emotional engagement I feel while experiencing any form of art comes as a musical theatre audience member. As an artist, what I want most is to create such an experience for others.