Lexington Children's Theatre's annual holiday-time show is usually filled with extra magic and spectacle, such as the flying-carpet adventure of last year's Madeline's Christmas.
Taking advantage of the short trek across the street to the larger venue of the Lexington Opera House, the troupe enjoys a bigger playground for the theatrical imagination.
Director Vivian Snipes has no shortage of imagination in this year's production, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, an adaptation of C.S. Lewis' allegorical novel that has enchanted readers for decades.
This visually sumptuous show invites young audiences to escape through the wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia, where four children are destined to save its magical creatures from the chilling rule of an evil queen. The show is technically well wrought and solidly performed, but there is something about the skewed sense of scale in the material that does not easily translate to the stage.
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Compressing the events of an epic novel into an hourlong show is certainly a daunting task, and Joseph Robinette's adaptation takes necessary shortcuts that make narrative sense but that sometimes come at the expense of relationships that need time to brew for a bigger dramatic payoff later.
Take, for instance, Susan and Lucy's relationship to Aslan, the powerful lion who can defeat Queen Jadis, the White Witch. The scene in which the girls comfort each other in the rain after Aslan's ritual murder is stirringly staged, but since they only just met him a few minutes before, their grief feels oddly out of balance.
Including the highlights of the book are an important part of any adaptation, but staying connected to the characters' motivations is equally important.
Robinette's script might not give performers the time and space they need to cultivate compelling relationships, but that doesn't mean that the performing elements of the show are lacking.
Austin Newsted, Sloan Gilbert, Brandon Cross and Alexandra Simpson deliver spirited, engaging portrayals of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, the Pevensie siblings who are fated to save Narnia. Bonus points for consistently delivered British accents.
Deidre Cochran and Antony Russell blast onto the stage in powerful renditions of evil and good as the White Witch and Aslan.
Eric Abele's costume for the White Witch chillingly captures the queen's wintry power, but I wish he would have rendered a slightly more literal lion costume for Aslan. I was waiting for a larger-than-life lion to make a grand entrance onto the Opera House stage and was disappointed by the admittedly creative, Roman helmet-inspired gold and red ensemble. Since the show is so full of action and characters, the audience needs obvious cues about who is who to avoid confusion.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of the production is Jerome Wills' fluid scenic design, which connects with Clare Lopez's choreography of the supporting ensemble's statuesque dance numbers, making Narnia come alive with magic.