Reviewed by Tomoko Miller
Flint Youth Theatre is rarely one to shy away from pushing the boundaries of theatre, and their latest production, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has the audience breaking those boundaries along with them. Based on the the well-known classic novel by C.S. Lewis, the story follows four human children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, who are fated to liberate a magical kingdom from the rule of an evil witch. Director Michael Lluberes’ ambitious concept has the audience up on their feet for the majority of the show and faithfully following in the footsteps of the children and their animal companions as they travel the vast, mythical land of Narnia. Almost every inch of Flint Youth Theatre’s facility has been transformed for the production, taking patrons through a maze of twists and turns to find the next stop on the journey.
The sets were varied, yet fit each scene perfectly. As the show started, an old radio played World War II news broadcasts to remind us of the world the children leave behind to take a more active role in the war to come. Inside this first room a cozy, warmly-lit English parlor lay in front of the wardrobe, which itself opened up to the icy and foreboding forest inside Elgood theater. In the forest the sound of howling wind and snow falling on our heads greeted us as we took our seats.
It was here where we were introduced to the majority of the characters who inhabit Narnia. Lucy (Edith Pendell) is the first of the children to explore what lies beyond the wardrobe. Lucy’s affable nature quickly pacifies the cautious faun, Tumnus (Zachery J. Wood). Their friendship puts Tumnus in danger and soon Lucy enlists the help of her siblings to save her new friend. Peter and Susan, played by the ever-talented Enrique Vargas and Destiny Dunn, join Lucy in befriending the creatures of Narnia. However, the impish Edmund, played by the seemingly ageless Britton A. Paige, has other plans.
Although the human children are the heroes of this story, the more fantastical characters stole the show. Janet Haley and Kyle Clark made for a menacing team as the White Witch and her servant Dwarf. Jordan Climie’s portrayal of Mr. Beaver offered much needed levity to the sometimes heavy subject matter.
Other rooms were decked out with practical lighting elements and platforms to delineate the actors’ play space from the audience areas. However, the thick crowd of attendees didn’t allow for much in the way of soaking in the ambiance of these spaces before they were whisked away to another location. Those seated and standing closer were likely able to enjoy these scenes more than those standing in the back.
Bower Theater was converted to allow for seating on the stage as well as in the audience, and the seating area was bisected with a runway that allowed for grand entrances and battles. Sound and lighting worked especially well together during more intense scenes in this space, implying action rather than carnage. As Aslan, Rico Bruce Wade appropriately ruled the elongated stage as the rightful king of Narnia. His imposing presence was matched by his booming voice that at once commanded respect and offered comfort. He and Janet Haley made for excellent sparring partners as they battled verbally and physically.
Individual technical elements were well executed, but the overall production suffered from blocked sight lines in overcrowded rooms and long waits between scenes as people funneled into narrow doorways and corridors.
The costumes were simple yet striking. The animals consisted of a combination of literal traits such as fur and horns, while other animals wore masks and large metal frames to indicate their imposing size. Sound was minimal but effective. A howling wind followed the audience through most of the show. When the wind finally died down, its absence was felt and added to the weight of the scenes that followed.
Most of the young (and young at heart) remained enthralled throughout the performance, seemingly in awe of being transported to a fantasy realm. However, the experience could have been more immersive by incorporating more communication from the creatures of Narnia who provided silent direction to the audience as to where to move next. Much confusion arose from the lack of information, especially when the audience was split apart to allow for two scenes to happen simultaneously.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe runs approximately two hours and is presented without intermission. Performances continue December 8 – 17. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and stay afterwards for Edmund’s favorite, Turkish Delight! For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-237-7333 or online at theFYT.org