By Lynn Geyer
Alice fell down a rabbit hole. Wendy, John and Michael flew off on sprinkled fairy dust. But Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter walked through a wardrobe.
All ended up in the same place – though different – Fairyland, with adventures for the whole family.
The delightful holiday extra at The Lakewood Playhouse is “The Chronicles of Narnia.” This is story of a family of four pre-teen and teenage children who are placed in a safe residence far from their London home during World War II. The two boys and two girls are not happy to be separated from their parents and friends but realize it is best, considering the time. Although, they think they could have been given more pleasant lodging for the duration.
They are placed in the Macready household. The Professor therein is passably nice; however, the lady of the house is a hard-ruled woman not used to children.
Lucy, the youngest, finds a perfect hiding place in a wardrobe. This enchanted wardrobe is actually the doorway to the other world of talking forest denizens, who are under the thumb of an evil would-be queen who has casts a spell of perpetual winter on the land when she ousted Aslan, the true king of Narnia. The White Witch is aided in her evil-doing by a hoard of – well, evil doers.
Somehow, Lucy makes it back through the wardrobe, finds her brothers and sister and returns to help the forest creatures overthrow the Witch.
Just your average English school children on a safe away-from-home break for the horrors of war.
This special holiday production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is a collaboration between The Lakewood Playhouse and the Lakewood Institute of Theatre.
Youth theatre is the ultimate preschool. It not only teaches the importance of listening but instills learning, responsibility, teamwork and dedication to its novice students. In advanced years, it reminds the individuals of the importance of commitment and the one working with and for the whole. It instills confidence in children of all ages and gives them the latitude to “pretend” – invent new identities and discover new talents with a group of peers.
This very successful pairing of the school and the theatre – using actors from both – is a great learning experience for the novice thespians. To have the ability to work with some of the best, well-seasoned actors in the business is worth years of study.
“The Chronicles of Narnia, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is a great success for the Playhouse and the Institute, as well as the actors and audience.
Director Jen Ankrum has done an excellent job of herding her cast of 23 animals and 8 humans about the stage using all possible entrances and exits of the practical non-set designed by Blake R. York.
York presents a virtually empty space except for occasional birch tree replicas dotting the outskirts of the intimate theater in the round and, of course, the wardrobe. A modicum of set pieces are brought on and off, including the wardrobe, to change locations; this work is ably done in dim-outs by the cast and crew.
The Lighting Design is done by Kristen Zetterstrom; it extra nice during the thunderstorm, as is the sound, done by Nena Curley and director Ankrum.
The dozens of denizen costumes – tail and tail-less – are designed by Virginia Yanoff, who is aided in preparation by stitchers Ursula Ahmedagic, Michelle Bergeron, Pam McGee and Heather Smith; great job by all.
Ankrum’s cast affirms the statement that “half the success of direction is in the casting” – the director has also done this well.
The four transplants to the safer clime are Sage Samuels as Lucy, Mason Lahd as Edmund, Ashley Mowreader as Susan and Caleb Wilkerson as Peter; all do nice work.
Samuels, the youngest sibling, albeit a bit stilted at first, gets better as the show continues.
Lahd, the eldest, holds his own during his frightful encounter with the evil side of the adventure and is quite assured of himself.
Mowreader does good work as the older girl and maintains an English dialect nicely.
Wilkerson is very good as the younger boy who unwisely succumbs to the witch’s promise of princedom. He handles himself well on stage and has the earnestness for success of – well – a young boy.
James Wrede is the Professor who hosts the children; he does a nice job of commiserating with and believing them. Wrede also plays a quite congenial Father Christmas.
Marcie Hagerman plays the straight-laced Ms. Macready as a force with which to be reckoned.
Casi Wilkerson is the evil White Witch. Wilkerson is sickly sweet toward Peter in hopes of luring him into her evil web of capturing the other children to force the King’s return so she can rule over all. When she addresses her cohorts, she turn her frost-bitten tongue into icicled-venom; a very scary lady.
Tony Onorati is cunning and conniving at the Dwarf who is her human aide. He scampers around like a scared rabbit – quite unusual for a human among all the furry four-footed friends.
As far as the animals in the frozen forest, there are plenty and all are quite good – from the smallest to the tallest.
The smallest is Cordelia Greenwell, an utterly charming nymph, who plays Peacock (barely out of the egg). Just a bit taller is Augusta Greenwell who sprints across the stage as White Stag. Then comes J.J. Greenwell as the evil Skunk – three talented sprites from the same family.
There is a lot of family connections in this production which is attested to by Marissa Tate as Lynx and Allie Tate as Rabbit; Grace Wilkerson as Red Bird (joining her mother and brother); and Alex Wrede as Wolverine, Valerie Wrede as Hare, and Rachel Wrede as Hyena (joining their father). All do admirable jobs but the real stand-out if the evil Hyena. Wrede is super as the animal with an evil snide leer doing the witch’s beckoning.
Alexa Booker is a charming flighty Sparrow; Julie Seibold is a sly Fox; Kadi Burt is a rascally Raccoon; Cleo Klaumizer is a sleek zebra; Madison Austin is a fluffy Cheetah; Ella Jones is Beaver Kid 1 and Elia Aguiler is Beaver Kid 2; and Stephanie Huber is a squirrelly Squirrel. All do well in their parts with Huber getting a special good job for the nutty one.
Elliot Weiner is Aslan, the lion king, who ruled the land with a sunny smile for all the animals until the evil witch ousted him. He is regally kind and helpful to the children.
Ian Ball is just wonderful as Wolf 2, the evil pup who does the witch’s biding. Ball plays the canine with alacrity and understanding usually reserved for a much more mature thespian.
Blake R. York is Mr. Beaver. York is a kindly caring giant rodent always concerned about his wife and children and helpful though obviously frightened by what has happened to his beloved forest.
Deya Ozburn is terrific as Mrs. Beaver, his “bickering” wife. Her make-up is among the best in the show and her body language is amazing. Ozburn looks and acts so much like a beaver, one has a tendency to keep half an eye on the trees to make sure she doesn’t fell one.
Paul Richter is Tumnus, the faun who befriends the children. Richter is perfect in the role of the gentle creature who wants only the return of peace to his beloved forest. Richter’s makeup and costume is aided by his excellent corvine demeanor.
Dylan Twiner is the evil Fenris Ulf, the wolf who is the head of the White Witch’s secret police. Twiner is the antithesis of Richter. The true good versus evil. And there are few who can play evil as well as Twiner to make the audience almost regret his demise – terrific job.
“The Chronicles of Narnia” continues at The Lakewood Playhouse in the northeast section of the Lakewood Towne Center, next to the Pierce Transit Depot, through December 22 Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. There are two additional 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday December 21 and 22.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 588-0042 or go online to www.lakewoodplayhouse.org. Don’t wait too long – many of the dates are already sold out or close to it.
Bring the whole family to The Lakewood Playhouse as a special Holiday treat. You’ll enter the cold forest of the wicked White Witch and help thaw it out with the warmth of being with your loved ones and the special cast of this charming, adventurous production.