Last Friday, I had the opportunity of watching The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe performed by the Orefield Middle School Theater Department. It was a lovely change to watch a theater production as an audience member. I went with one of my students and his mother, and we had a wonderful time.
Mr. Tumnus acted as something of a narrator, and he was quite good. Lucy was also excellent, and Susan and the White Witch gave strong performances. As a director of children, I appreciated the work Jonathan Lynch put into getting his cast polished and ready to perform. The play was visually enjoyable as well, with snowflakes, creative set pieces, and an impressive wardrobe acting as the door to Narnia Seeing how they created some sets gave me inspiration for future set designs! Perhaps their most impressive piece was Aslan: a large puppet manned by two boys. This creative decision enabled Aslan to walk across stage and interact with the characters. I found this rendition of Aslan much more believable then the dreaded “man in a lion suit” which I have seen in the past.
The story was adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette. From a theatrical standpoint, the script was good, especially for a cast of middle school students. Robinette kept the story moving smoothly between scenes, condensing sections of the book to emphasize the essentials of the plot. There was one glaring inconsistency (we see Mr. Tumnus get dragged away by Maugrim immediately after Lucy leaves him, and yet Mr. Beaver tells Lucy later that Mr. Tumnus gave him her handkerchief before Mr. Tumnus was arrested. Sorry, that didn't happen...), but overall it was an enjoyable script.
Unfortunately, the script didn't do Aslan justice.
In the books, Aslan is a lion to be feared. Robinette's adaptation made Aslan seem more like a cheerleader, telling the Pevensie children that he “believed in them”, and that they could serve as kings and queens without him. That is not the Aslan that I know from the books. Also, because of its being a shorter play, running only 80 minutes, we barely had time for the anticipation of Aslan's arrival to intensify, let alone see him on stage.
One of my great dreams for Players of the Stage is to perform The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. My hope is that I can get the permission I need to adapt it myself, because as enjoyable as the production was as a stand-alone piece, it didn't give the essence of who Aslan was. That is what I hope to capture if I am able to adapt and perform The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe someday: Who Aslan is, and how he can be a good, but wild and unsafe lion.
Despite my disappointment with Aslan, I still take my hat off to the performers, director, and production crew of Orefield Middle School. It was an enjoyable show that gave me many good ideas. They are performing Peter Pan in the spring, another show I long to do, and I plan on attending it for a night of fun and inspiration.