The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe at Imagination Stage by Julia L. Exline

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Imagination Stage, in collaboration with The Washington Ballet, presents C.S. Lewis’ cherished adventure The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe. Directed by Janet Stanford and music composed by Matthew Pierce, this production couples drama and dance, enabling a universally known story to be told in a unique and beautiful way.

Maugrim the Wolf (Dylan Keane – center) and the White Witch’s minions taunt Aslan in ‘The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

The set, designed by Eric Van Wyk (he also designed the breathtaking Aslan puppet, but we’ll get to that later) is painted a deep blue, with a stately wardrobe, grandfather clock, suit of armor, and other props that hint at the inside of an old, erudite manor. The transformation into Narnia leads way to painted snow valleys, textured white curtains, and an icicle-covered streetlamp. “Snow” flutters from the ceiling, and paired with soft blue tones from Lighting Designer Colin K. Bills, the effect is magical. Another alteration gives us springtime in Narnia, and, with a blink of an eye (quite literally – I looked away for a second and the stage was transformed – I don’t know how they did it) colorful flowers pop up all over the stage, petals fall from the sky instead of snow, and warm, buttery yellow and orange hues bring in the sun. Sound Designer Chris Baine uses a number of effects, staring with air raid sirens, a chaotic jolt that sets the story into motion.

Set in London 1940, four siblings are sent to live in the country by their anxious mother after an air raid. Costume Designer Kathleen Geldard does a fine job with date-appropriate clothing such as collared blouses, breeches, modest dresses, stockings, and hair ribbons. The children happen an old wardrobe that transports them to Narnia, a magical land under the turmoil of an evil witch, her regime which is their destiny to defeat. Peter (Christopher Wilson/Sam Lariviere) Susan (Kate Guesman/Laura Chachlich) Edmund (Rafael Cuesta/Daniel Savetta) and Lucy (Justine Moral/ Carly Wheaton) make up the talented quartet of siblings who are about to embark on the quest of their lives.

There is duel casting in the production: one actor and one dancer per character. The actors and dancers are dressed identically and either split stage time, or mirror each other’s movements onstage. It takes some getting used to (and if you are not familiar with the story it can be a little confusing), but the effect is a nice one: the dancers bring a new level of depth to the character’s journeys, showing internal struggle and joy at certain moments, and expressing emotions through movement instead of dialogue, with beautiful choreography by Septime Webre and David Palmer.

The siblings are leaving to escape the war. L to R: Peter (Sam Lariviere), Lucy (Francesca Forcella), Edmund (Daniel Savetta), and Susan (Laura Chachich) in ‘The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Standout scenes include a playful dance between new friends Lucy and Tumnus (Robert Mulvey), and in another, the actor and dancer playing Edmund dancing together with an angry passion, frustrated about the alienation that he feels from his brothers and sisters. Some of the best moves, however, belong to the White Witch (Morgann Rose), who transfixes the audience as she seemingly defies gravity.

Aslan, a larger-than-life puppet made mostly of basket reed, mesh fabric, and lycra, proves to be as magnificent as he is imposing, sometimes upstaging the magnificent cast. It takes three people to operate this piece of art, with Michael John Casey as the Voice of Aslan (among other smaller roles). The puppeteers make his movements impressive and detailed (watching him laugh and romp around playfully with the children is a particularly poignant scene) from a lumbering gait to the simple act of breathing. He is simply beautiful.

The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe achieves something that I have not yet seen in children’s theatre: exposing children to the world of ballet. This is an exceptional feat, and a joy to watch.

Treat your child to a performance of The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe, and get ready for them to ask you for a pair of their own ballet slippers!

The professor shares stories about Marbleton Manor with the siblings. L to R: Edmund (Rafael Cuesta), Professor (Michael John Casey), Susan (Kate Guesman), Peter (Christopher Wilson), and Lucy (Justine Moral) in ‘The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe.’ Photo by Scott Suchman.

Running Time: 105 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe plays through August 12, 2012 at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Avenue, in Bethesda, MD. To purchase tickets, call (301) 280-1660, or order them online.