A review of Adrian Mitchell’s adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” on stage through Dec. 11.
Though its Christian allegory isn’t exactly subtle, C.S. Lewis’ 1950 novel “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is an enduring children’s classic among the religious and nonreligious alike — and for good reason. The first of seven books about the magical land of Narnia, “Lion” is full of rousing adventure and reasonably complex characters, built on a sturdy mythical foundation that would prove quite expansive over the series.
Some of that is evident in Seattle Children’s Theatre’s production of Adrian Mitchell’s adaptation for the Royal Shakespeare Company, first produced by SCT in 2003. Mitchell’s script is very faithful to the book, but at times, it seems designed with an eye more toward efficiency than enchantment, and there’s a hurried pacing to Linda J. Hartzell’s direction that sweeps one up into the story but leaves some individual scenes feeling incomplete.
This adaptation also possesses modest musical ambitions, and in songs that are more fragments than full-blown numbers, we hear about the curse of winter that pervades the land and the tempting pleasures of a magical box of Turkish Delight.
‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’
by C.S. Lewis. Adapted by Adrian Mitchell, with music by Shaun Davey. Through Dec. 11, at Seattle Children’s Theatre, 201 Thomas St., Seattle; $25-$45 (206-441-3322; www.sct.org).
When Mitchell and composer Shaun Davey opt for a more traditional musical number, like Lucy’s “Misery Me,” a yearning ballad about her naval officer father, the overt psychologizing and florid language feel directly at odds with Lewis’ terse prose.
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Nonetheless, this is an exquisitely designed production, from Carey Wong’s minimal but intricate set design, flanked by gorgeous latticed tree panels, to Catherine Hunt’s costumes — smart and stylish for the Pevensie siblings; spikily otherworldly for the followers of the White Witch.
Rick Paulsen’s dramatic lighting helps set the stage, as Mitchell drops us into the story a little earlier than Lewis, with bombs falling during the London Blitz and the four Pevensie children huddled in a darkened railway station, about to be sent off to the safety of a countryside estate.
While eldest Peter (Mike Spee) and second-born Susan (Claire Marx) adopt a no-nonsense stoicism, younger brother Edmund (Spencer Hamp) whines and sulks, especially when confronted with the irrepressible enthusiasm of Lucy (Miranda Antoinette Troutt), who sees a potential adventure around every corner.
It’s Lucy who first discovers that the wardrobe in the upstairs spare room is a portal to the beautiful but cursed Narnia, put under a spell by the White Witch, who’s appointed herself Queen of Narnia (a delightfully wicked Julie Briskman).
Eventually, all four siblings are in Narnia together, where they learn of prophecies about four human kings and queens and a mysterious lion named Aslan — both keys to breaking the curse. There’s just one problem; lured by tasty treats and false promises, Edmund aligns himself with the Witch, and defeating her may prove costlier than anticipated.
Likable performances abound in SCT staging. Spee and Marx make Peter and Susan’s good-natured earnestness interesting, while Hamp leavens Edmund’s petulance with enough naïveté to make the character relatable. A beaming Troutt has enough infectious excitement for the lot of them.
The supporting cast is stocked with numerous great Seattle actors. David Pichette and Jayne Muirhead clown charmingly as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, who introduce the children to Narnia’s history. Aaron Shanks is winningly skittish and sophisticated as Lucy’s first Narnian friend, the faun Mr. Tumnus, while Richard Gray snarls alongside Briskman as the Witch’s top henchman.
As the Christ-like Aslan, Terence Kelley is more genial than regal, but the thundering roar sound effects get the message across that he’s good, but not safe, as Mr. Beaver said.
Best of all is Hugh Hastings’ kindly professor, who with a twinkle in his eye and a knowing tone in his voice, reassures the children that they’ll get back to Narnia someday. For kids whose interest in Narnia is sparked by this production, “Lion” is just the beginning for them, too.