Raleigh Little Theatre’s Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre was bursting with a full house, twenty-three cast members, and a full contingent of staff and crew on opening night of its run of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The work, adapted by Peter Hall from the novel, features music by Richard Peaslee and lyrics by Adrian Mitchell.

The cast is made up entirely of Raleigh area teens who attend rigorous classes and rehearsals. Two separate programs are enlisted, Teens On Stage and Teens Backstage, providing a teaching program which allows the students involved to show off what they have learned with a full-scale production. In the packed house Friday, several audience members were youngsters themselves who had come to see the fairy tale, as well as those who came to see the deeper, more sinister tale that Orwell wove into his novel.

Animal Farm tells the tale of a farm in England that is taken over by the animals after the farmer becomes a drunkard who neglects his farm. Mr. Jones (Reid Nadasky) is routed by the animals he once owned and a new utopia is set up with the animals running the farm themselves. Things go well the first summer, with enough food for all and a democratic form of government led by a contingent of Pigs: Snowball (Bevan Therien), an idealist; Napoleon (Maya DeAndrea Hamer), a practical pig; Squealer (Parker Perry), an opinionated pig; and Minimus (William Taylor), a poetic pig.

Things begin to deteriorate when Snowball and Napoleon have a falling out. Little by little, so as not to be observed by the rest of the farm, the utopia set up by Snowball lapses into a dictatorship run by Napoleon. The pigs, who have killed off Snowball, begin to run the farm for profit and start to take on all the aspects of Men, including the drinking of whiskey, which is against the Seven Rules of animalism that were originally set up. Murder and mayhem ensue, and by the time the show ends, the pigs (who now walk upright on two legs) have become indistinguishable from the Men who were originally the enemy.

The transition takes place slowly, with the full consent of those who are being governed. The farm animals, each of whom wears a metal mesh mask to hide the actor’s identity, all agree with the pigs as they go about setting themselves up as the elite ruling class, allowing the rest of the farm to deteriorate and the animals to starve. Orwell uses the animal farm tale to cleverly disguise what in reality is a massive coup, which destroys a utopia and sets up a “republic,” which is in fact a dictatorship run by Napoleon Pig.

Costumes and musical numbers take center stage as these twenty-three teens recreate this utopian idyll, only to allow themselves to be led by a charismatic leader into a state which allows only the elite to prosper while the rank and file become destitute. The masked characters have very specific costumes, from the black-and-white colors of the cows to the calico markings of the Cat (Alyssa Hartzheim). All of the animals are four-legged, the forepaws of which are legs made of wood, which makes for a stampede-like effect when all are marching to the beat. Full company numbers are accentuated by thunderous hooves, and smaller ensemble numbers are quiet and wistful, recalling the days of utopia that began the experiment that is Animal Farm. These costumes, created by costume designer Jenny Mitchell, help us distinguish between the hens, a quartet of egg-layers, and the horses, who are the muscles of the clan. The end result is a clever and engaging evening of theatre, which both entertains and forewarns as the elite Pigs learn to walk on hind legs and move the mantra “Four legs good, two legs bad,” to “four legs good, two legs better.” We watch helplessly as the ideal of utopia disintegrates into dictatorship, and our good friend Napoleon reigns supreme.

This full-scale musical using the talents of Raleigh area teens, directed by Linda O’Day Young and with musical direction by Yvonne Koch, is suitable for all ages. Bring the family and make your reservations early, because if opening night is any indication, RLT has a sellout on its hands.

Animal Farm continues through Sunday, July 28. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.