Reviewed by Sherrema Oom-Dove
Clio Cast and Crew (CCC)’s latest production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is based on the children’s book of the same name by C.S. Lewis. The story opens with the Pevensie children recently arrived at Professor Kirke’s home, where their parents have sent them to escape the bombs of World War II London. As they explore and play games in their new home, the youngest child Lucy (Emma Thompson) comes upon an old wardrobe, which she enters and finds that it is a portal to an enchanted land called Narnia. This country is ruled by the White Witch (Dawn Sabourin), who has established herself as Queen and placed a spell on the land, so that it is perpetually winter and never Christmas. She has banished Aslan the Lion (Dawan Simpkins) and there is a prophecy that two Daughters of Eve and two Sons of Adam will rule Narnia alongside him. Taking no chances, she plans the demise of any humans who dare enter her enchanted lands. Lucy explores the Narnian forest and meets Tumnus (Alex Callender), a faun who has been charged by the White Witch to kidnap any human he sees and bring them to her. Tumnus, however, cannot bring himself to kidnap Lucy and pays dearly for his compassion – the White Witch turns him to stone.
Meanwhile, Lucy re-enters the portal and convinces older brother Edmund (Mason Miller) to return to Narnia with her. He does so and is captured by the White Witch, her dwarf assistant (Abby Schlosser) and Fenris Ulf (Elijah Kittell), who leads the Wolf Pack (Aaron Coleman, Gage McCarley, and Josiah Smithwick). She beguiles Edmund with Turkish Delights, his favorite treat. His older brother Peter (Aaron Swords) and sister Susan (Samantha Tack) also enter Narnia and he attempts to influence all his siblings to go with him to the Queen’s castle. Father Christmas (Brett Beach) comes and bestows gifts that will help them on their sojourn. Meanwhile, Aslan fulfills prophecy with his return to the Stone Table of Narnia, and the children ally themselves with him. A great battle ensues in a civil war of Narnians on the side of Aslan and the White Witch with her minions. Because Edmund forfeits his fate, she makes a pact with Aslan that he will take the boy’s place. In doing so, by the deepest magic, he becomes ever more powerful.
The C.S. Lewis story is about religion, choice, and identity. The White Witch may be metaphorical for the devil (and King Herod, who killed boy babies of Bethlehem to prevent the prophecy of Jesus’s birth from coming true), Aslan for Jesus, and his death and rising again as an allegory for the Crucifixion story. However, context is also important; Lewis – born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898 – published Lion in 1950, five years after the end of WWII. He lived in Great Britain from nine years old, about the age of Lucy in Lion. He therefore witnessed the rise, fall, and rise again of his adopted country. Thus, in a broader socio-political sense, Lion also draws on lived historical themes surrounding Winston Churchill, Adolph Hitler, and Great Britain.
Director Shane Wachowicz and Director/Producer Julie Tack do an excellent job of keeping the story’s focus on Narnia, via their use of scenery, costume, and imagery. Lewis’s love of nature was well-known, and the CCC directors do not disappoint – the stage is a forest wonderland. In a post-show interview, Wachowicz attributed the set design to Tack’s creative genius and assistance of the cast and crew (especially Tony Sisson and Patrick Tack), who built and painted the idyllic scene under her direction. The walls are a pleasing sage green with painted pines and built-in protuberances of white, black-ringed birch trees. A magnificent, colorful, three-dimensional tree trunk sits center stage and covers the entrance and exit of cast members, while actual tree stumps double as seats and place settings.
Appropriate costuming brings a sense of mystery and magic. The Narnia scene opens with two characters, the White Stag (Gracelyn Burger) and a unicorn (Allison Szyperski), in graceful pursuit of one another. Burger wears white leotard with a fitted gold-beaded belt, cinching the waist of a short white dress, and ballet slippers. Szyperski sports a form-fitted white top; long, flowing, white skirt; and golden boots. Her tresses are long and rainbow-colored with a pointed horn situated in the middle. Mr. Beaver (Rachel Tisdale) and Mrs. Beaver (Kaitlyn Honnen) wear brown and flannel with black-painted noses; he is brusque and grumpy while she is compassionate, nurturing, and kind. Together, they welcome the children to Narnia and host Father Christmas, his elf (Genevieve Fleischmann), and the giving of gifts. Centaur (Michelle Robideau) is magnificently outfitted in long, flowing white robes; a Canterbury cap; and a built body, imitating a horse’s flanks. Robideau is graceful in carriage and portrayal, as her character embodies Lewis’s devotion to the Anglican faith. Other costumes, including Callender’s faun and assorted woodland creatures, as well as a butterfly and peacock, round out the forest mystique.
It is, however, the White Witch and Aslan’s costumes and characters that instilled a sense of awe. Wachowicz said that he allowed cast members their own creative direction for what their characters would wear. With the blessing of the directors, Sabourin and her mother created the costume of the White Witch with a dress donated by Perfect Fit Bridals and facial and hair adornment that gave her queenly bearing. Similarly, Simpkins was well cast as Aslan the Lion; his fur-trimmed costume; deep, soothing voice; and commanding presence brought deference and respect from his fellow characters. To echo Wachowicz, Simpkins was Aslan.
Costumes brought their own sense of identity and inspiration, as did people in cast members’ lives and their experiences of popular culture. Sabourin said post-show that her inspiration was to consider how the devil ‘might have felt’ at believing he had won, only to lose in the end. She also spoke of Margaret Hamilton, who played the Wicked Witch of the West. Having portrayed that character in two productions of the Wizard of Oz, Sabourin said she felt confident in embodying the White Witch and it showed; her performance was magnificent. Honnen said that she drew on the Beaver character from the 2005 film adaptation of Lion and Mrs. Potts from Beauty and the Beast. Swords said that he drew on people in his life whom he respected as inspiration for his character, while Schlosser said that she tried out various ways of embodying the dwarf, finding a gravelly voice and bent-over carriage, until satisfied.
There were a few small things, such as Tumnus’s fear that the White Witch would pull out his beard and cut off his tail when he had neither of these, and a pair of fur-clad boots might have rounded out Aslan’s costume. However, this production, coupled with its musical soundtrack and mellow lighting (Pat Hubbard), made for one of the most awe-inspiring opening night experiences in community theatre that this reviewer has ever seen.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe continues at CCC Theatre, 2220 W. Vienna Rd, Clio, MI, 48420 through April 2. For more information and tickets call 810-687-2588