The size and scope of the world C.S. Lewis created is massive, yet “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” premiered this Friday at the cozy Gamut Theatre space. Though this story features many larger-than-life characters, the viewer feels a closer connection to each one of them on the Gamut stage. Thanks to Melissa Nicholson’s excellent direction, there is a strong focus on the way each character talks, snarls, prances and moves.
Dramatized by Joseph Robinette, “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” is a story of good versus evil at its core. To start, the audience is plunged into darkness, and booms vibrate loud enough to shake the whole theater. Siblings Peter (Lyeneal Griffin), Susan (Leighann Koppenhofer), Edmund (Andrew Webb), and Lucy (Kennedy Commissiong) escape these London bombings to live in a country home, but, once they arrive there, they soon discover that a wardrobe in a spare room is hiding its own secrets.
The younger siblings Lucy and Edmund are the first to find Narnia on the other side of the wardrobe, but their older siblings have their doubts. Commissiong exerts confidence as she leans against the iconic lamppost, welcoming all of her siblings into Narnia with her “told-you-so” body language.
In Narnia, the enchanting cast spans all ages. Several very young performers appear as cute mice twirling amongst the other frolicking forest creatures. The snow-lined stone path leads into a silver forest with tangled branches overhead. We see the Unicorn (Abby Carroll) chatting with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. The pair (played by Diego Sandino and Erin Shellenberger) quickly become crowd favorites with their warm disposition and good chemistry. Sandino, wearing a cap and suspenders and a long brown tail, speaks in a perfectly nervous yet charming tone.
I was eager to see the White Witch, played by Amber Mann. Wearing a tall, shimmering, icicle tiara, Mann barks orders like “Now” and “Come Forth” in a sharp, piercing tone. The mighty lion Aslan, combining impeccable puppeteering with the booming voice of James Mitchell, is another equally commanding presence who stands for what is good and just. Young performers all worked together to dance, shake tambourines and chant to give Aslan the grand entrance he deserved.
When Aslan appears, the lighting onstage warms up with colorful hues of orange, red and yellow. In contrast, the lighting turns blue, sparse, and fragmented when the Witch works her magic and turns her victims to stone. As Aslan’s followers clash with the Witch’s followers, the four young siblings find themselves in the middle of a prophecy that will determine the fate of Narnia.
What impressed me the most about this production was the immersive, large scope of it all. Specifically, the second act brings about two-dozen performers together for the final battle sequence. The entire stage, including both floors, are used appropriately to showcase all of the performers.
Costume designer Stephanie Jones also knocks it out of the park with intricate head-to-toe costumes for all Narnia beasts, big and small. Fenris Ulf (Garrett Knisley) rips and roars across the stage with his wolf-like ears, tattered pants and studded cuffs. Mr. Tumnus (Will Mueller) walks on his toes with his wide, pointed ears and signature red scarf. Edmund dons an argyle sweater vest and matching socks. Scott Long nails the eccentric swagger of the Professor with an eyebrow raised, a pipe hanging out of his mouth, and a bushy mustache.
Even Father Christmas makes an appearance as “Silent Night” plays softly in the background, and the whole cast seems to catch their breath for a moment of peace.
Now is the perfect time of year to catch this production. As wreaths appear on street lamps and shops stream holiday music, this play fills you with just the right amount of childhood wonder to kick off the holiday season.
“The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe” runs through Dec. 8 at Gamut Theatre, 15 N. 4th St., Harrisburg. For more information and tickets, call 717-238-4111 or visit www.gamuttheatre.org.