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‘The Hobbit’ comes to life this month at JRT

Bilbo Baggins has come to Jonesborough. And if he’s not careful, he may end up creating a crowd of theatergoers longing to go with him when he leaves.
“It’s such a magical show,” said Jeanette Miller, who attended an early performance of Jonesborough Repertory Theatre’s latest production, “The Hobbit” last week.
Miller, owner of Marj on Main in Jonesborough, loved the sets, the costumes and of course, the character of J.R.R.Tolkien’s most famous hobbit.
And Miller wasn’t alone in her admiration.
Wrapped in all the magic of his Middle Earth home, Baggins stepped onto the stage to full houses last week accompanied by elves, trolls, dwarves, hobbits ­— and lots of applause.
In this other world, doors were round, music was lilting — and all problems seemed easily surmountable with the gentle help of one small hobbit.
Created by Tolkien in his novel, and later adapted into a play by Patricia Gray, “The Hobbit” tells the story of Baggins, a hobbit content with his quiet life in the Shire, who is pulled into adventure by a great wizard, Gandalf, a troupe of colorful dwarves, and their leader, Thorin.
In some ways, the story is very simple, according to Pam Johnson, who co-directed the play with Barbara Jeffress.
“The hobbit has a home. The dwarves want a home,” she said.
An unlikely hero, small and somewhat timid, Baggins soon becomes the key to the dwarves achieving their goals. In the process, they get to have one great adventure.
Chosen from more than 90 auditions, the cast of 31 is led by Raegan Bailey, a 16-year-old Daniel Boone High School sophomore, who plays the role of Bilbo, and also features David Carter as Gandalf, Andrew Wininger as Thorin and Corey Tickles as Gollum.
“I really liked Bilbo,” aid Libby Tipton, who acts as an interpreter for the hearing impaired for special JRT performances. “I loved (Bailey’s) gestures and facial expressions.”
Young actors and actresses fill other key roles, too.
“When we first began auditions, we weren’t sure what direction we were going to take,” said co-director Jeffress. They had two choices: cast predominately adult actors and struggle with the size issue (hobbits are notoriously diminutive) or select younger thespians already of smaller stature.
Once they looked at the talent before them, Jeffress said, they decided on younger actors for many of the dwarves and hobbit roles. This made the production not only size appropriate, but also family friendly.
That was one of the draws for Larry Childress, who attended with his daughter, Susana, 8, and her friend Sophia Donahue, 6.
Both children have siblings in the cast, but also appeared to be delighted by the performance.
Sophia was fascinated by Bilbo’s feet. “They’re big and hairy,” she said with a grin. And Susana loved watching the antics of the dwarves.
As for her dad, “I think it’s fantastic,” Childress said. “It’s a great show for the whole family.”
Miller agreed. She brought her granddaughter, Tia Laws, 9, to the show, and couldn’t say enough about the experience.
“It’s just such an asset to our community to have something like this so close to bring your family to,” Miller said. “Every play I’ve seen here has been excellent.”
Performances of “The Hobbit” are scheduled now through March 30, with shows set for Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; and a special Thursday, March 21 show at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are available by calling the Jonesborough Visitors Center at 753-1010 or by visiting Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for students and seniors.