To leap, bound, and twirl through Narnia is to enjoy the storied fantasy world anew, watching the Pevensie children learn the value of sacrifice, friendship, family, love, and, of course, the triumph, of good over evil through dance.
Imagination Stage has turned C.S. Lewis’ 1950 beloved children’s novel—The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe—into a dance-based telling, mixing in puppetry and song to breathe exciting, theatrical life into the beloved wintry wonderland, which, as we all know, starts with a walk through that mysterious wardrobe.
During World War II, Peter (Solomon Parker III), Susan (Katy Tabb), Edmund (Ben Ribler), and Lucy Pevensie (Lauren Farnell) evacuate to the English countryside and the home of a kindly professor to avoid the Blitz in London. There, Lucy wanders into a wardrobe during hide ‘n’ seek and encounters the magical land of Narnia, wherein she meets a fawn named Mr. Tumnus (Randy Snight). Edmund stumbles upon the same land and instead encounters the wolf Maugrim (Ryan Sellers) and an enchanting White Witch (Sarah Laughland) who plies him with Turkish delight in exchange for his siblings, to which he gladly agrees, for he’s tired of being picked on and playing second fiddle to the older Peter.
The children—known in Narnia as Daughters of Eve and Sons of Adam—are long prophesized to overthrow the White Witch and bring about the return of the great lion Aslan (Matthew Aldwin McGee). All four find their way into Narnia, but while Edmund pushes them towards the Witch’s castle, Lucy pulls them to find out what happened to the vanished Mr. Tumnus, which leads them to Mr. Beaver (McGee) and Mrs. Beaver (Patricia Hurley) and eventually Aslan. Naturally, adventure ensues—talking mythical creatures, swashbuckling sword fights, and the magic of self-discovery.
Aside from the fusion of dance, puppetry, and song—which Imagination Stage does so well and is incredibly unique – is the casting choice that the Pevensie children have both actors and dancers portraying them. Snight doubles as dancing Peter, Laughland as dancing Susan, Sellers as dancing Edmund, and Lexi Firestone as dancing Lucy. At times, all eight—the actors and dancers—interact with each other as if the dancers are the shadows to the actors, which heightens the fantastical feeling of a world that is unfolding at the back of a wardrobe. It’s almost Peter Pan-esque, that Edmund would connect with an alternate self—one that is perhaps his sub-conscious or latent desire—as he does when he sings “There’s a hero in me” as both Ribler and Sellers take the stage. It adds depth, complexity, and poignancy when you consider these children are grappling with concepts of war, both internal and external.
It also enhances the intensity—be it dread or joy, such as the dinner at Mr. and Mrs. Beaver house, done like a warm, old English pub—when all eight “children” are on stage dancing, acting, intermingling. And, it’s superb every single time, though I’d argue that the dance is what makes this show, which Imagination Stage first produced in 2012 and has stayed wonderfully true to.
Lucy’s meeting with Mr. Tumnus is a beautiful ballet that encapsulates the pure wonder each has for the other, and Snight is a delightful fawn. Father Christmas (McGee, again) comes bearing gifts, and wisdom, for the Pevensie children to help them succeed in their quest to “bring about a reckoning” that will vanquish the White Witch forevermore. Aslan shimmers, sparkles, and shines. His coppery mane is as deep in color as is his wonderful voice, provided by McGee, who controls the enormous puppet alongside puppeteers, Suzy Alden and Jay Frisby. And, of course, that wonderful lion makes the ultimate sacrifice, but we all know how that goes.
“When you choose to give yourself willingly,” all those around him sing, at the very end, “deeper magic will set you free.”
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe closes January 5, 2020. Details and tickets
Everything in Imagination Stage’s telling of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is lovely, moody—in the magical sense—and breathtakingly vivid, even the stark white, which warms into a colorful spring, just as redemption liberates the soul.
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe Adapted from C.S. Lewis’s novel The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe . Original Concept by Kathryn Chase Bryer, David Palmer, Janet Stanford, and Septime Webre. Directed by Janet Stanford. Libretto and Lyrics by Janet Stanford. Additional Lyrics by Bari Biern. Music by Matthew Pierce. Choreographed by David Palmer. Featuring Suzy Alden, Lauren Farnell, Lexi Firestone, Jay Frisby, Patricia Hurley, Matthew Aldwin McGee, Sarah Laughland, Solomon Parker III, Benjamin Ribler, Ryan Sellers, Randy Snight, and Katy Tabb. Production: Debbie Jacobson, Music Director; Eric Van Wyk, Scenic and Puppet Designer; Kristen P. Ahern, Costume Designer; Max Doolittle, Lighting Designer; Kenny Neal, Sound Designer; Claire Derriennic, Assistant Director; and Paulina Campbell, Assistant Stage Manager. Stage Managed by Jessica Short. Produced by Imagination Stage . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.