ATF’s ‘The Hobbit’ excellent entertainment for kids, adults

GLENS FALLS – For sheer creativity of movement and staging, Adirondack Theater Festival’s production of “The Hobbit” will surely be among the best of a summer season that still has another six or seven more weeks of performances.

Five actors, four playing multiple roles, tell JRR Tolkien’s timeless, beloved tale of a quest that involves hobbits, elves, goblins, trolls and humans in the fantastic world of Middle-earth. There’s even a ferocious dragon, entertainingly created by a pair of red lights behind a screen for its eyes and outstanding audio by sound designer Tosin Olufolabi, whose work is superlative throughout.

ATF’s producing artistic director, Miriam Weisfeld, chose “The Hobbit” for this, her first summer season, having worked on an earlier version with its writer-director, Greg Banks, that was produced in 2019 by the Children’s Theater Company of Minneapolis, where Weisfeld was then director of artistic development. Banks revised and shortened the show for the ATF production, and the result is an evening packed with action, drama, comedy and, most of all, adventure.

Joe Isenberg, the movement director for the Minneapolis production, has been elevated to director for ATF’s “Hobbit,” and his deep familiarity with the material is evident in the speed, economy, visual engagement and playfulness of his staging. Instead of the expected forest, the set, by Sarah Beth Hall, resembles an abandoned factory; combined with tiered, rolling metal platforms and costume elements including welder’s masks, the look is of a post-industrial age analogous to the fallen era of Middle-earth during which our intrepid group sets out on their journey.

Bilbao Baggins (the utterly winning Blake Segal), is a hobbit happy to stay at home, resting in his Adirondack chair with tea and a radio program. Recruited – or, more precisely, forced – by Gandalf the wizard (Rin Allen) into service, he joins a band said to be 14 strong, though we see only four others. The group is led by the dwarf Thorin (Ryan Pater), who is determined to reclaim treasure stolen by Smaug the dragon after the flying, fire-breathing creature destroyed a dwarvish kingdom reigned over by Thorin’s grandfather.

The actors, also including Meagan Kimberly Smith and Marshall Evan McGuire, are all fleet of foot and dynamic in portraying their multiple characters, most notably Allen as an imperious elvin queen and a slithering, creepy Gollum, whose precious ring is taken by Bilbo. The story moves with such momentum, one encounter and battle to the next, that the few becalmed moments are doubly effective. For a professed homebody, Bilbo is surprisingly good at this action-hero stuff, and Segal is a joy to watch in the role.

One of the reasons I’m a devoted reader was the love of story instilled most vividly when my mother was pregnant with my younger brother, and, reading to and with my older brother and me, then ages 7 and 8, we devoured “The Hobbit, “followed by” Watership Down. ” It’s my first memory of experiencing big, long novels – they’re both 400 pages or more – that appealed across generations.

I thought of that repeatedly during Friday’s opening of “The Hobbit.” Although the new works to which ATF is dedicated are usually more suited for audiences from high-schoolers to senior citizens, the company has also had success with other full productions appropriate for younger people, too, including “Loch Ness” in 2018. A kid already into theater would be further inspired by “The Hobbit” to explore more of the possibilities of the art form, and a neophyte, perhaps seeing real theater for the first time because they’re part of the “Lord of Rings” universe, might become a convert for life.

“The Hobbit”

When: 7:30 pm Friday
Where: Adirondack Theater Festival at the Charles R. Wood Theater, 207 Glen St., Glens Falls
Running time: One hour and 50 minutes with one intermission
Continues: 7:30 pm Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday through Saturday, July 10 and 14 to 16; and 2 pm Wednesday, July 13, and Sunday, July 17
Tickets: $ 45 ($ 25 for 18 and younger)
Info: 518-480-4878 and

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