Long before Harry Potter rode his first broomstick (get your minds out of the gutter), there was a magical book that captivated an entire generation of kids. For those of us growing up in the ’80s, The Neverending Story was the perfect escape from all that was dreary and dark in the mundane world.
Like JK Rowling’s sweeping tale of young wizards, Michael Ende’s story of a young boy’s magical adventures reached a mainstream popularity that led to huge sales and a blockbuster film (as well as a mediocre sequel).
The tale begins with a lonely boy named Bastian, who discovers a mystical storybook detailing the adventures of Atreyu, a young warrior.
As Bastian becomes more immersed in the book, it becomes clear that he is affecting the outcome of the story as he reads. While Atreyu battles werewolves and giants with the aid of a friendly dragon, Bastian comes to realize that only the power of his imagination can save the land.
“I always had this love for Atreyu,” says Adamo Ruggiero, who is playing the young warrior in David S Craig’s upcoming stage adaptation of The Neverending Story. “I was so moved by this young person who is called on a great quest but doesn’t necessarily feel worthy of it.
“It’s funny, when I first read the script, I was thinking about the gay community,” Ruggiero says. “Bastian is very much a kid who is bullied and neglected, but he learns compassion and understanding as he embraces the power of his imagination.
“It’s like our community back in the day, with people asking, ‘What if?’ What if we could love equally? What if we could be safe? We made those things happen by imagining them.”
While he is better known for work on television shows like Degrassi and Being Erica, Ruggiero says he enjoys theatre because it allows his own imagination to work overtime.
“Television is more contained,” he says. “Theatre has that lovely freedom of exploring the words and the movement. I’m getting to make choices that I’d usually be afraid to make in finding my character’s voice and body. You’re kind of like an athlete onstage, mentally and physically.
“The lucky thing is that I’m surrounded by eight actors who have way more experience in theatre than me. I’m learning so much from these incredible people. I’m just in awe of them.”
Ruggiero believes the stage production, like the novel and the films, holds as much appeal for adults as it does kids — particularly those of us with fond memories from our own childhoods.
“David does an incredible job in making this story relatable to all different generations,” he says. “It’s not talking down to kids or trivializing their experiences.
“I think we often underestimate children’s literature as being only for kids, but these books are like L Frank Baum’s Oz or Alice in Wonderland . . . they acknowledge that kids have the same root feelings of pain or self-doubt that we all have, and the same hopes for success and newfound confidence.”