Imagination Stage The Lion, The Witch, & The WardrobeBy Rachael Murray • Jul 17th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Imagination Stage and Washington Ballet
Imagination Stage, Bethesda, MD
Through August 12th
90 minutes, with intermission
Reviewed July 14th, 2012
Imagination Stage’s collaboration with The Washington Ballet, an original adaptation of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, packs quite a lot into its modest run time. The piece is based on the first and most famous novel written by C. S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia series. In it, the four Pevensie children are sent to live in the English countryside during World War II. While playing in the country house, young Lucy Pevensie happens into a great wardrobe, which just happens to be a portal to another land — the magical land of Narnia. There, she meets Mr. Tumnus the Faun, who invites her to tea. Her brother, Edmund, also discovers Narnia. He meets the White Witch, the self-declared Queen of Narnia. Edmund is seduced by the Witch’s offer of power. He promises to bring his siblings to her. Eventually, all four Pevensie children embark upon an adventure across Narnia to meet the Legendary Aslan.
The actors, dancers, and puppeteers work well together as an ensemble. The performers do a good job streamlining themselves into the overall feel of the show. Because of this, it is difficult to get behind the Pevensie children or Aslan as personalities. Instead, most characters come off as types. As a Narnia fan, I was at first disappointed that Lewis’s characters (particularly Aslan) were not developed a bit more. However, as the show reached its end, I realized that character development, etc., etc., was probably not the point.
Set and puppets (Eric Van Wyk) are quite beautiful. The seamless wardrobe transformation, in particular, immediately sets up the magic of Narnia. Kathleen Geldard’s costumes work very well. The lighting (Colin K. Bills) appropriately captures the energy of each scene. Matthew Pierce’s compositions are lovely and haunting. Like the performers, no production element overshadows any other. Rather, they work together to contribute to the world of the Pevensie children.
The piece (conceived by Kathryn Chase Bryer, David Palmer, Janet Stanford, and Septime Webre) contains such wonderful joi de vivre. Lewis’s tale is complex to begin with, and because it was one of a series of novels about Narnia, it feels episodic and follows a tricky trajectory. Imagination’s adaptation pares down quite a bit of dialogue from the story. Much lingual meaning is replaced with shorter dance sequences, with just enough remaining so that one can follow the general plot. This allowed it to fit within a reasonable amount of time for children to sit still, although I was pleasantly surprised with how few children were fidgeting in their seats. Many looked rapt to attention, yearning for more. This conception smartly appealed to that part of children we adults rarely give them credit for.
Imagination Stage’s new take on classic children’s novel finds strength in approaching a slightly abstracted and dance-heavy performance with youthful energy and a sense of the magic that is so necessary to Lewis’s story. While I understand the decision made to manageably fit it all into ninety minutes, I think this idea would do well upon further exploration to be fleshed out into a longer format. Nonetheless, the piece functions in an exemplary way to expose children to more abstract theatre and dance. Adults, too, will enjoy escaping to Narnia.
I’ll bet you are here today because you LOVE The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe! Is it the adventure in a fantasy land that attracts you? The fabulous creatures of Narnia? The epic battle between the White Witch and Aslan? Or one of the children with whom you feel especially close?
When Kate Bryer and I sat down with Septime Webre and David Palmer of The Washington Ballet in 2010 to plan our adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ masterpiece for you — the Imagination Stage audience — we decided that our focus would be the four Pevensie children. At the top of the tale, they are at war with one another just as England is at war with Germany. Edmund is the “bad boy” of the story. Once in Narnia, he betrays his siblings and plans to join the forces of Evil. What begins as a squabble between brothers and sisters morphs into a high stake game of life and death for all the characters. By the time the children return home at the end of the story, Edmund, Lucy, Susan, and Peter have all completed astounding journeys not just in time and space but also inwardly, in their hearts.
In our retelling of the classic, you will see that each of the four children is played by an actor and a dancer. Each pair will trade off on the storytelling and sometimes they appear together almost as if their outward and inward journeys have been separated so that you can see each more clearly. In the moments of high emotion, the dancers fill the stage with leaps, turns, and jumps. Then the actors may sing or have a bit of dialogue that helps you to follow the plot. As we worked on this new theatre piece over the last several months, Kate, David, Septime, and I enjoyed discovering how dance and drama complement each other as modes of theatrical expression. In fact, just like our heroes at the end of the book, the four of us collaborated beautifully and never ever squabbled at all! With its action-packed story and vivid characters, we all believe that The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is an epic tale that defies boundaries and deserves all the artistry and imagination we could collectively throw at it.
We hope that what we’ve created touches your hearts as it has touched all of ours…
Photos by Scott Suchman
- Voice of Aslan, Puppeteer 1, Mr. Beaver, Father Christmas, Professor: Michael John Casey
- Susan or White Witch/Mrs. Macready: Laura Chachich
- Edmund: Rafael Cuesta
- Lucy or White Witch/Mrs. Macready: Francesca Forcella
- Susan: Kate Guesman
- Maugrim the Wolf or Peter or
- Tumnus/Elf: Dylan Keane
- Peter or Maugrim the Wolf: Sam Lariviere
- Lucy: Justine Moral
- Edmund or Maugrim the Wolf or Tumnus/Elf: Robert Mulvey
- Mrs. Beaver, Mother, Voice of White Witch: Sarah Beth Pfeifer
- Puppeteer 3: Tracy Ramsay
- White Witch, Mrs. Macready: Morgann Rose
- Puppeteer 2: Betsy Rosen
- Edmund or Peter: Daniel Savetta
- Tumnus/Elf or Edmund: Chong Sun
- Susan or Lucy: Carly Wheaton
- Peter: Christopher Wilson
- Director: Janet Stanford
- Co-Choreographer/Artistic Director, The Washington Ballet: Septime Webre
- Co-Choreographer/ Associate Artistic Director, The Washington Ballet: David Palmer
- Dramaturg/ Associate Artistic Artistic Director, Imagination Stage: Kathryn Chase Bryer
- Sound Designer: Chris Blaine
- Lighting Designer: Colin K. Bills
- Stage Manager: Kristen J. Bishel
- Costume Designer: Kathleen Geldard
- Assistant Stage Manager: Jocelyn Henjum
- Composer/Violinist: Matthew Pierce
- Music Director: George Fulginiti Shakar
- Set and Puppet Designer: Eric Van Wyk
Disclaimer: Imagination Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8294.
Rachael Murray is an actor, director, and teaching artist. She is a Virginia Tech alumnus with a Bachelor's of Arts in English and Theatre Arts. A relative newcomer to the DC Metro area, Rachael has participated as both an actor and director in a variety of projects at Virginia Tech and has worked as a teaching artist with Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, New York.