Fantasy world comes alive in production of C.S. Lewis classic
Review by Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
Photos by Alexis Bolze
When Claude Pensis and Michael Kary are helping ticketholders locate the few empty seats available in Ethington Theatre, that’s not a good sign for Grand Canyon University’s arts program.
Rather, it’s a great sign.
The dean of the College of Fine Arts and Production and the director of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” normally aren’t ushers. Yet their services in that role were required Saturday night for the weekend’s second performance of the popular C.S. Lewis children’s story, which sold out well in advance — and then was oversold beyond Ethington’s 300-seat capacity by the discounter Groupon.
Overflow seating was added, almost everyone was accommodated and the 75-minute show started about 15 minutes late.
“It will be worth it!” Kary promised, apologizing to the audience from the stage.
And it certainly was, with Kary’s direction, Bill Symington’s scenic design and Nola Yergen’s costumes working in perfect harmony to create a Narnia that fired the imagination of young and old alike. Solid performances from new and veteran student actors finished a close second to the look and feel of the magical world entered via a wardrobe closet, a forest with talking animals that awaits the return of Aslan, the lion who is Narnia’s true king.
Four children — Lucy (Anabel Olguin), Susan (Rebekah Dipple), Peter (Brad Beamon) and Edmund (Dylan Kim) — visit a Narnia ruled in Aslan’s absence by the evil White Witch (Holly Nordquist), who keeps the place frozen in a winter without Christmas. Edmund initially falls under the witch’s spell, enticed by the promise of unlimited supplies of his favorite candy. The others, counseled by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (William Wyss and Bridgette Phipps), hold out for Aslan (Josh Vanderpoel).
The Lewis allegory is impossible to miss, with Aslan as a Christ figure who undergoes a brutal death and spectacular resurrection, all the while tossing off Scripture such as “It is finished” and “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
Vanderpoel imparts a regal bearing to the lion that only a seasoned performer could do, and Nordquist’s icy witch is a worthy counterpart. As Fenris Ulf, the witch’s henchman in charge of an army that looks like a motorcycle gang on a really bad day, Aaron Potter is made even more menacing by the use of an echo effect on his raspy voice. All three actors, along with Beamon and Wyss, consistently have distinguished themselves on the Ethington stage.
The role of Edmund requires the most range of the four child characters, and Kim comes through. He is one of nine freshmen in the cast of three dozen and will be one to watch in future productions.
Symington’s set appears as white trees connecting overhead in an archway, with words written in black on the trees as if pages were ripped from Lewis’ story. Special effects such as fog and snow add to the sense that Narnia is one deep freeze of a place desperate for the warmth that only Aslan can bring. Nine Wood Nymphs are dressed in leotards that are an extension of the tree design, and the black-on-white look is arresting. Their choreography, the work of talented dance student Samantha Newhall, is terrific.
We have come to expect imaginative treatment of familiar works by Kary, and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” falls right in line. It’s on a par with what he did with “Dracula,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “H.M.S. Pinafore.”
The remaining four performances of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” are sold out. The performance next Saturday night (Feb. 15) will be followed by a short discussion of C.S. Lewis’ works by Dr. James Helfers, a GCU professor and Lewis scholar.
A word to the wise: “Into the Woods,” the musical that will conclude the 2013-14 Ethington Theatre Series, opens its run on April 4. In light of recent crowds, it’s not too early to order tickets (639.8880 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or email@example.com.