BWW Review: THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE at Gamut Theatre Group
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, has captivated the minds of readers ever since the first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was first published in 1950. Since then, it has been adapted for the screen and the stage. The 1989 full length dramatization by Joseph Robinette brings the classic tale of Narnia to life on the stage. Under the direction of Executive Director Melissa Nicholson, the production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at Gamut Theatre is a delight for audiences of all ages.
The production really comes together as a whole-from the lights to the sound to the costumes to the set and even the set changes, everything has been carefully designed and choreographed to give the audience the sense of wonder and magic that should accompany any telling of Narnia. The background music is beautiful, well-suited to the mood of the performance, and not distracting. The sound and lights (designed by Zack Moser and Tristan Stasiulis), particularly in the storm scene, are designed and timed perfectly. I am amazed by the costume design (by Stephanie Jones) as well as the makeup-the costumes are beautiful, creative, and unique and assist the audience in suspending disbelief to truly enter the world of Narnia.
Nicholson and the cast have worked together to create an experience for the audience. Throughout every moment on stage, including set changes completed by the cast, the actors stay in character. It is rare to see a production with such a large cast in which not a single actor breaks character, but if anyone had a momentary break, I didn't see it. The animal ensemble is absolutely fantastic. Their facial expressions and movements embody their animal characters. Even the youngest mice are delightful as they squeak and scamper around the stage.
There are so many wonderful things that can be said about the acting in this show. In an effort to not spoil the experience for future audiences, I'll try to stick to some highlights. Francesca Amendolia and Scott Long take on the roles of Mrs. Macready and the Professor. Amendolia's Mrs. Macready is appropriately stern and scary, and her presence on stage makes the audience sit up straight and pay attention. As the Professor, Long gives the character an almost mystical air. Chris Ondeck and Georgia Bailey exude hope and the holiday spirit as Father Christmas and his Elf-every time they come on stage a playful mood comes with them.
Amber Mann, Garrett Knisley, and Seth Winnick portray the White Witch, Fenris Ulf, and The Dwarf, the villains in the show (along with the Witch's followers), and they do it quite well. Mann's White Witch revels in her power while trying desperately to keep the prophesy about her downfall from coming true. She particularly shines in the scene where she lays out her threat to Aslan, delivering a powerful monologue from the apex of the set. Fenris Ulf, played by Garrett Knisley, could make the bravest person tremble in fear. Knisley puts a great growl into his voice and moves around the stage with the ease of his animal character. Winnick interacts well with both Mann's White Witch and Knisley's Fenris Ulf as the Witch's lackey, the Dwarf. The three of them work well together in their scenes, heightening the tension in the fight scenes.
The Unicorn (Abby Carroll), Rumblebuffin (Tesean Richardson), Centaur (Joel Clovin), and Mrs. and Mr. Beaver (Diego Sandino and Erin Shellenberger), along with the rest of Aslan's followers represent the forces of good in the show. The way in which Clovin moves with his Centaur costume is mesmerizing-it's hard to imagine how real it looks until you see it for yourself. Sandino and Shellenberger are the perfect pair as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Their gestures, expressions, and way of speaking really make them look and sound like talking Beavers, and the way they interact with one another on stage is adorable.
Will Mueller takes the stage as Tumnus, the faun who is so afraid of the White Witch that he almost goes against his own conscience to obey her orders. Mueller plays Tumnus exactly as I picture that character. In his first scene with Lucy, he is noticeably conflicted about the role he's about to play in the fight between good and evil in Narnia. This scene is handled beautifully by Mueller and makes the audience anxious to see what happens to him in the end.
Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy are the daughters of Eve and sons of Adam prophesied in Narnia. The children are played by Lyeneal Griffin, Andrew Webb, Leighann Koppenhofer, and Kennedy Commissiong. (James Mitchell, Chris Ondeck, Amber Legge, and Blake Mallah appear near the conclusion as the adult versions of the characters, and they a do a great job of acting the way you would expect those characters to act after getting to know them as children during the bulk of the show). Griffin and Koppenhofer are believable as the responsible older siblings who find it hard to believe that Narnia exists until they experience it for themselves. Webb gives Edmund just the right amount of bad attitude-he doesn't want to listen to his older brother and sister, he doesn't want to believe his younger sister, and he is easily swayed by the White Witch's fake kindness. Webb's eye rolls and crossed arms are classic teenage attitude. As he sees the White Witch's true colors, the look of fear and remorse on his face looks genuine. Lucy, the character who first travels to Narnia and is enchanted by the magical world, is played by Kennedy Commissiong. Commissiong infuses her character with emotion, charm, and the excitement and fervor of a young girl discovering something new and wanting to stand up for what's right.
Adding to the magic is the way that the actors and crew handled the characters of Aslan and the White Stag. I don't want to give it away too much, so let me just say that the actors portraying Aslan--James Mitchell, Kassidy Kramer, and Kaylee Kramer-- and the Stag (Kassidy Kramer and Kaylee Kramer), were outstanding. They moved in perfect unison, including their facial expressions, which made the animals come to life in a unique and beautiful way. They particularly shine in the scene at the Stone Table in Act II when the White Witch and her Army seem to have defeated Aslan.
This production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe will make you believe in magic-the magic of Narnia and the magic of live theatre. Treat yourself this holiday season and make the magical journey to Narnia. Make sure you make time to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at Gamut Theatre before it closes on December 8. Visit www.gamuttheatre.org for tickets and more information!