BWW Review: Seattle Children's Theatre's THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE: A Sprint Through Narnia
C.S. Lewis' 1950 fantasy novel, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" has withstood the test of time, delighting generations of children and adults, religious and non-religious alike in book, film, and theater form. Adrian Mitchell's musical adaptation of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" now performs at the Seattle Children's Theatre with a narrative faithfully streamlined from the original text. That very faithfulness certainly has its pro's with those familiar with the Christian allegory, but cramming every moment from the book into a two-hour musical made the story feel rushed. This is one aesthetically dazzling production that, as the adult, may require some explaining to the kids after the show.
"Lion" is the first book in Lewis' seven-book "The Chronicles of Narnia" series. Here, we are introduced to the frame story of four siblings relocated from London during World War II. Peter (Mike Spee), Susan (Claire Marx), Edmond (Spencer Hamp), and Lucy Pevensie (Miranda Antionette Troutt) play and explore in their new, very large home, when one day, the youngest (Lucy) discovers a magical portal inside a wardrobe. It leads her to Narnia, a twinkly, wintry forest populated with talking animals, mythical creatures, witches, and Santa Claus. Lucy's faun friend Mr. Tumnus informs Lucy that Narnia was cursed to be always winter and never Christmas by the evil White Witch. After Lucy returns to the real world, eventually her at-first skeptical siblings discover Narnia on their own, and the four children embark on a prophetic quest to save Narnia.
This is a hard one to follow, folks. Edmond disappears and reappears a few times. Santa shows up out of nowhere, almost like a deus ex machina, and distributes gifts to the siblings just when things were looking dire. These details may be apparent in the novel, but were skimmed over in this musical, resulting in a very hard story to follow. Aslan does not have the time to prove to the audience why he is revered, on top of Terrence Kelly's portrayal being more jolly than regal. And at times, director Linda Hartzell did not even seem to hide the fact that the story scurried too quickly, characters announcing loudly that they had arrived to their destination after walking in a circle around the stage. I know time moves at a faster pace in Narnia, but slow down!
The songs were not bad, just unnecessary. Lucy's ballad about being misunderstood felt a little too psychoanalytical for a children's musical, and "Misery Me" was not alone in feeling forced and fragmented. Most of the musical numbers are about food and Narnia pre-White Witch, resulting in a score that felt cute, but superfluous.
That said, this venue did a fabulous job making up for the questionable material by creating an absolutely enchanting physical world. Carey Wong's brilliantly utilizes negative space requiring the use of imagination in a very successful way, especially paired with ornate, illustrated set pieces to guide the imagination in a specific direction. The costumes, artfully designed by Cathy Hunt, had an animals-designed-by-Cirque-du-Soleil flair that works. There are moments where the aesthetics butt-heads with the dialogue-when, for example, anyone refers to Aslan as a literal lion; but at its core, this is a thinly-veiled allegory, which allows for some creative licensing by the design team. The lighting, too, was quite effective. Rick Paulson's lighting in the more ghoulish scenes took the moments from Disney-scary to actually frightening (but not too frightening for the kiddos). All in all, the components in the production were polished--every cast member performed their roles with the right amount of spunk for a children's show (but not so spunky as to feel corny)--the components just happened to be in a musical with pacing issues.
Aesthetically enchanting with a staccato narrative, I give The Seattle Children's Theatre's "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" 3.5/5 stars. This production is worth going to, but, like I said, the adults will need to do some explaining after the show.
"The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" performs at The Seattle Children's Theatre through December 11, 2016. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.sct.org.