Pennsylvania Youth Theatre's production of Patricia Gray's dramatization of J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" has what any child loves: dwarves with swords going someplace scary to do something dangerous.
The play, with alternating casts of children and directed by Mary Wright, continues through March 24 at the Charles A. Brown Ice House, Sand Island, Bethlehem. For the March 15 performance that was reviewed, the "Back Again Cast" was on the quest through Middle Earth.
Jack Armstrong is terrific as the mysterious Gandalf, who has plans that no self-respecting Hobbit such as Alex Vogelgesang's Bilbo would ever consider involving himself in. Vogelgesang's performance is excellent.
"Adventure makes you late for dinner," protests Bilbo when Gandalf and a gang of dwarves make clear their plan to kill a dragon and reap a rich reward. The intrepid Hobbit reluctantly joins the rough-looking crew, declaring he "would hunt a hundred dragons" to defend his family's honor.
Thorin, a brave knight played with swashbuckling aplomb by Sophie Kitch-Peck, leads the ragged adventurers though mysterious mountains and deep woods on their quest to the dragon's lair in Lonely Mountain.
Bilbo gets lost in a cave where he meets Gollum, played with sinister athleticism by Maia Bondonese. He outwits the creepy cave-dweller and escapes with a prize that proves invaluable in helping him and his companions through tight scrapes.
The fact that a regal and beautiful Elven Queen played with imperious flair by Taliyah Torres might cause trouble doesn't occur to the fortune hunters until it's too late.
The appetite of Bombur (Sarah Vogelgesang), in charge of food for the journey, is humorously obvious throughout. A companion dwarf, Dori, (Erin Cavanaugh), seems destined for bigger, ahem,, roles.
Alex Knapp, as the narrator Tolkien, with his believable Oxford accent, keeps the audience informed about the back story.
The scouts for the hearty band, Kili (Trinity Affuso) and Fili (Abigail Dunn) provide comic relief as they report losing the pack horses and the food. Their energy is endless and contagious.
Tessa Flynn as Smaug the dragon is wonderfully menacing.
Megan Truscott's set design is damp, moldy and perfect for adventure where magic and terror lurk around every twist of a treacherous path.
Costumes designed by Deb Cerniglia give the cast wonderful believability.