“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” full of childlike fancy, just in time for the holidays

Lucy Pevensie (Jenaha McLearn) meets Mr. Tumnus (Maclain W. Dassatti).

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Presented by: Syracuse Stage  & SU Drama Dept.
Where: Archbold Theatre, 820 E. Genesee Street
When: Nov 25 – Dec 31
Tickets: Adults, $28-$50; 18 & under, $18; 40 & under, $28. Senior discounts available all performances except Friday and Saturday evenings. Rush tickets day of performance only: $20-$25 general public; $18 with valid student ID.
Running time: Approximately 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission.

GRR Review by Leah Stacy

When I was a little girl, I checked inside every walk-in closet and knocked on the back of every wardrobe, hoping to find a secret door to another world. I stared at paintings of exotic lands, hoping they would shiver to life and transport me inside. I owned a ridiculous faux fur coat, and I wanted to live in London.

Deep down, I knew I was actually a princess and my “parents” were simply my chosen caretakers until I ascended the throne.

Part of these fancies I owe to my wild imagination, and part to the writings of C.S. Lewis, author of “The Chronicles of Narnia” series.

In the most famous installment of his seven-book series, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Lewis tells the story of four British siblings who travel through an attic wardrobe to a world where it’s “Always winter, and never Christmas.”

That doesn’t really explain why Syracuse Stage chose Adrian Mitchell’s adaptation of the story for the holiday slot in their 2011-12 season — unless you know the rest of the story.

On opening night, Archbold Theatre buzzed with excitement. Children in their Sunday best were present this Friday night, hair messed from winter hats and cheeks rosy from the nippy December air. My boyfriend and I, two overgrown children, could hardly contain our own applause when Artistic Director Tim Bond and Managing Director Jeffrey Woodward introduced the play.

For the next two hours, we were transported to the magical land of Narnia by spectacular set design (There’s snow! And it falls on the audience, too!), clever costumes and musical numbers that pressed into a short time the elaborate story of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie’s grand adventure.

It’s World War II, and the children have been sent to the countryside for safety.

Music gives a glimpse into the historical time as Lucy (played endearingly by SU Drama senior Jenaha McLearn) sings “Misery Me,” a wrenching ballad rooted in her fears regarding the war.

McLearn is bookended by SU students Marie Eife (Susan), Amos Vanderpoel (Peter) and Charlo Kirk (Edmund). All four look a little too old to be schoolchildren, but they provide solid emotional connections and energetic vocal performances.

The allegories designed by Lewis, an atheist-turned-devout Christian, are endless. Aslan (Jordan Barbour), the great lion and King of Narnia, is a god-figure, while Jadis, the White Witch (Jacquelyn Piro Donovan), paints a Biblical portrait of Satan. Churchgoers might also appreciate that Aslan’s big song in this musical, “The Lion Leaps,” shares a chord progression with many hymns.

As I anticipated the plot’s denouement, it occurred to me that the actors don’t carry this type of show. It’s the story of adventure, betrayal, sacrifice and the age-old battle between good and evil. Lewis’s work continues to be timeless because it draws from themes experienced by every generation, but he probably never  imagined “The Chronicles of Narnia” would be translated in over 40 languages, made into several motion pictures and adapted countless times for the stage.

Syracuse audiences, especially those with children, should definitely make time for “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” this season.

And don’t be surprised if ‘wardrobe’ is added to more than a few Christmas lists.

P.S.

40 things you never knew about Narnia.

Throughout the month of December, Syracuse Stage is holding a Holiday Food Drive, collecting non-perishable food items to benefit the local pantry at Grace Episcopal Church, 819 Madison Street.

You can view LWW slideshows from Syracuse Stage: Rehearsals, Puppetry, and Sets.

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