If you think you’ve seen all Gamut has to offer, Melissa Nicholson is about to shake up your conception of the professional theater group.
In recent years, Gamut’s season opener in downtown Harrisburg has tended toward adult-themed works by Shakespeare, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. This year, Executive Director Nicholson has something different in mind. She is at the helm as Gamut presents Joseph Robinette’s adaptation of C. S. Lewis’ perennial favorite, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Admittedly, this writer hasn’t read C.S. Lewis’ works, opting instead, in my youth, to read about a fantasyland called Sweet Valley. However, should anyone make a reference to Narnia, Aslan the lion, the White Witch or that tricky wardrobe, I know exactly what they mean. Such is the ubiquitous presence of Lewis’ creation in popular culture.
I sat down with Nicholson, and we spoke about the show and how her production team was planning on staging such an ambitious fantasy.
First of all, Nicholson has surrounded herself with skilled artisans to help realize her vision for the show.
Her costume designer, Stephanie Jones, outfitted Gamut’s Young Acting Co. when they ventured into otherworldly locales in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” Specialty prop designers Scott and Jen Kilander, both of whom have worked for Gamut extensively in the past (perhaps you remember the metal beam that bent so easily in “R.U.R.,” the handheld puppets that populated ancient Rome in “Julius Caesar,” or the very realistic-looking severed head brandished at the end of “Macbeth”), have designed a puppet maneuvered by not one, but three actors portraying the titular lion, Aslan. (James Mitchell, last seen in Narçisse Theatre Co.’s production of “Waiting for Godot,” gives Aslan his voice, and student actors Kaylee and Kassidy Kramer help in his physical portrayal.) Dan Burke, the fight choreographer, is again bringing his brand of “safe violence” to the Gamut stage, and I am told that there is a battle that involves every cast member, save two.
“We’re not denying the theatricality of the whole play,” Nicholson explained. “We’re not putting on a magic show.”
What that means for those in attendance is that, in the customary way of Gamut’s Young Acting Co., rather than trying to hide the machinery of a show, things like set changes will be executed by ensemble members of the cast in full view of the audience. The climactic encounter between Aslan and the White Witch (played by Amber Mann) is also steeped in the type of sorcery that is reserved for the theater—but I’m sworn to secrecy as to how they’re going to pull it off. (I’ll just say this: it sounds amazing.)
Speaking of the Young Acting Co., it should be noted that this production blends the traditions of the Young Acting Co. with those of Gamut’s Mainstage offerings. The cast is made up of adult professional actors, student actors who have worked with or studied at Gamut in the past, and brand-new faces, old and young. If you’ve never seen Melissa Nicholson working with young actors, it is a sight to behold. She draws rich performances from students at all levels of skill. Gamut’s most recent Young Acting Co. production, Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” led by an 8th-grader in the bard’s second-largest written role, could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any Shakespearean production in the mid-Atlantic. That Nicholson is finally turning her hand to Gamut’s Mainstage should give theatergoers in our area even more incentive to see the finished product.
Nicholson hopes that, with a short running time (about two hours), families will be encouraged to come to Gamut as a unit to see “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Though the books may be marketed toward young readers, the story itself explores themes that resonate with all ages—loyalty, family and the struggle of good versus evil. The journey to Narnia and back is sure to raise questions in young viewers and provoke discussions among audience members. That theater of any kind can be a catalyst for critical thinking and fruitful conversations is, if you ask the artists themselves, one of the chief reasons they create their art.
“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” opens on Friday, Nov. 15, at Gamut Theatre in downtown Harrisburg, and runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 8. There is no performance on Saturday, Nov. 16. Friday and Saturday performances start at 7:30 p.m., with the box office, Capital Blue Cross reception lobby and Peggy’s Pub open to the public starting at 6:30 p.m. Sunday matinées start at 2:30 p.m., with box office, lobby and bar open at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are available at www.gamuttheatre.org/tickets.
AT GAMUT THEATRE GROUP
“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”
Dramatized by Joseph Robinette from the story by C.S. Lewis
Nov. 15 to Dec. 8
No show Nov. 16
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2:30 p.m.