The terrors of totalitarianism may seem an unlikely subject for a musical, but they were perhaps just as unlikely a subject for a children’s animal fable when George Orwell began Animal Farm the novel in the depths of World War II. In Westmont College’s current production, which has been given a vibrant staging by director Mitchell Thomas, Orwell’s trenchant observations on a world in which “all animals are equal, and some animals are more equal than others” take the form of large (16 actors in 50 roles) cast of singing and dancing cows, pigs, sheep, hens, and horses, with a pair of threatening dogs and a human or two thrown in for good measure. This Animal Farm is a lot of fun — and scary, too — especially when things turn ugly for the good creatures who serve under the increasingly human-acting (and, therefore, double-dealing) pig leaders.
While the three pigs — Napoleon (Chris Wagstaffe), Squealer (Reyn Halford), and Snowball (Sam Martin) — occupy the core of the show’s conflict, it’s the equine contingent that steals the early part of the production. Micah Sapienza excels as Boxer, the determined and faithful workhorse whose fate gives the story its most poignant moment. As Clover, the mare who is Boxer’s companion, Sarah Phillips achieves a similarly effective physical characterization, based in part on the ingenious prosthetic forelimbs designed by Miller James.
Ultimately, while the story may not completely match the heavy-handed equation of factory farming and totalitarianism, this Animal Farm does an impressive job of making Orwell’s barnyard a place for great musical theater.