BWW Review: Relive the Magic of NARNIA at Serenbe Playhouse
Although only in its tenth season, Serenbe Playhouse has proven that they are willing and eager to take risks. Having found their niche in outdoor theatre, they're putting their own unique spin on every single show that they produce. For instance, their production of TITANIC just last season boasted a set comprised of risers and scaffolding above a pond that partially "sunk" during the show. Actors dove off pieces of the set into the frigid water during the production, some being certified divers who aimed their leaps perfectly to miss boats by inches.
However, it was their 2016 production of MISS SAIGON that drew attention from all over the world. Each night, an actual helicopter from the Vietnam war landed on the set and took off, thrilling audiences so much that Serenbe extended their initial run and expanded seating in order to keep up with ticket sales. In telling a friend that I was going to see NARNIA at Serenbe, I was told that she wasn't entirely looking forward to the touring production of MISS SAIGON, because how could you top a live helicopter landing on the set? This elevated my excitement for the show, as the only other Serenbe production I'd seen was their adaptation of Charlotte's Web in 2016.
Every show that Serenbe produces is set somewhere on their thousand-acre residential and commercial property, with NARNIA as an immersive walkthrough experience placed at several sets within their theatrical space. The show ran at a little over an hour, however a lot of the time was dedicated to the space between scenes when the audience needed to follow the actors to the next set to watch the next portion of the show. While this somewhat lessened the tension in the story, truly following along with the characters' journey added a level of immersion that I've never before experienced in a show. My favorite transition was walking through the wardrobe directly after Lucy, through the fur coats and emerging at their lamppost set. Magical!
The sets were one of my favorite parts of the show. Georgia doesn't get much snow, but that didn't stop scenic designers Estefania Perez Vera and Mark Warner from alluding to the winter nightmare that Lucy finds herself in with strands of crystalline beads dropped from the trees above the sets and melting snow immediately greeting the audience as they walked through after her. One of my favorite sets was the multi-level stone table, which was the only set with seating for the audience. As each set is fashioned in a "theatre in the round" function with audiences able to surround the set in order to watch each scene, there isn't a bad seat in the house... unless you're standing behind someone tall.
Another fantastic part of the production was the stunning costumes. Designed by Cole Spivia, they beautifully nodded to traits of each character. For instance, all of the Pevensie children were clothed in typical classic 1940's fashion, with each costume perfectly suited to their character. Spivia incorporated masks for some of the animals - such as Aslan the lion and Ryweth the wolf - and gave curly horns and fur-covered boots to Mr. Tumnus the faun. The most dazzling costume was given to the White Witch herself, complete with a flowing cape made of white fur, icicles attached to a corset bodice, and, to top it off, an icicle crown and whip that doubled as her wand.
The cast of NARNIA was comprised almost entirely of actors in Serenbe's apprentice program, a full year of opportunities offered to recent college graduates who are seeking to have a career somewhere in the theatrical field. As such, some of the acting left something to be desired, but that's to be expected from actors still in training. Of the four Pevensie children, my favorite performance was a tie between Eleanor Rocha (Lucy) and Brandon Smith (Edmund). Both gave emotional, endearing performances, with both having the most fleshed-out storylines of all of the characters (mostly due to the story being cut down so much). I also enjoyed Micah Patterson's performance as Mr. Tumnus - admittedly one of my favorite characters in the series, regardless of adaptation - even if he leaned into a more comedic take on the character, which could have been an actor choice or a directorial decision. The actors who played multiple roles impressed me, especially with their quick costume changes that I didn't even catch, even though we followed most of the actors around. Although everyone sang well, I found myself looking forward to the solos that Megan Odell (White Stag, Ryweth) had the most.
Another notable part of the show was the fight choreography (created by Jake Guinn), especially the parts that included fire. However, I wish the fire had been incorporated throughout the show, instead of almost jarringly brought out towards the end. I feel this way towards the music written for the show as well, which was good but lacked power. I grew up on the BBC adaptations of the Narnia series and later the Disney versions in the mid-00's, so music in any version of this classic series already feels out of place. One of the technical aspects of the show that impressed me the most was the timing of the lights and music, provided by an artist who followed behind the audience and actors with an iPad which he used to hit the cues. Director Joel Coady definitely brought the entire production to another level, and has gained recognition in the local arts scene, most recently at the Suzi Bass Awards in Atlanta for his production of K2 at Catalyst Arts.
A departure from their five-year-strong tradition of producing THE SNOW QUEEN as their winter show, NARNIA at Serenbe didn't dazzle me, but I did greatly enjoy many parts, especially the immersive aspect of it all. Serenbe Playhouse is doing something special and has a firm grasp on how to put on a unique show, even to an audience that has seen other adaptations. I'll definitely be back!