Tolkien tale gets a twist in Kids First production

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” moves from Middle-earth to middle school in a production staged by the Oakland Center for the Arts’ Kids First Program.

“The Hobbit, A Classroom Parody” was written by James Canacci, an English professor at Kent State University at Trumbull. It was first staged by Youngstown Playhouse Youth Theatre, and Canacci said he wrote it out of necessity. He was asked to direct a production of Tolkien’s tale there, but he didn’t like any of the scripts that were available.

“One had like 40 roles in it and it would have run three hours long,” Canacci said. “You can’t do that with a kids’ play. The other was super short and turned Elrond into a fairy queen. It was terrible.”

He wrote his own script, creating a parody set in a school in order to avoid any copyright conflicts.

“One of the kids is picking on a weakling student,” he said. “There’s mean girls, nerdy kids, the quiet one, the smart kid — all those cultural stereotypes represent the different characters in ‘The Hobbit.’ The teacher becomes Gandalf and boy getting picked on is Bilbo … The teacher is teaching them a lesson about being good by retelling a shortened version of ‘The Hobbit.'”

David El’Hatton, who played Smaug the dragon in the original Playhouse Youth Theatre production, is directing the Kids First production, and Canacci said he was honored when they asked if they could stage his version, which opens Friday at Trinity Fellowship Church in Boardman and runs for two weekends.

The cast include Robert K. Ellway as Gandalf, Aubrey DeJacimo as Bilbo and Savanna Watkins as Gollum with Jake Hagler, Finnley Blackann, Landon Gerchak, Kenny Day, Abby Hagler, Jake Platt, Andew Babyak, Logan Pauley, Molly Gerchak, Mikey Zoccali, Noah Babyak, Logan Ramsey, Connor Pauley, Maddy Burke, Kaylynn Budrovic, Racheal Frost, Caleb Witherstine, Jacob Watkins, Caroline Capuzello, Lynnz Gonzalez, Nevaeh Alkire, Connor Pavlicko, Jacob Watkins, Kaylynn Budrovic, Brianna Wagner, Brennan Baber, Eli Hagler, Harmony DeFrank and Brendan Byers.