It's been said the person who thought children should observe "one minute of silence" in school every morning never taught school. Keeping kids quiet for a full minute is next to impossible.
Unless, of course, you're the City Rep Theater Company and the play is "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe." Kids keep quiet for 30 minutes at a time there.Children's theater may be the one art where a critic is justified in reviewing audience reaction. Poor children's productions tend to feel like a dialogue among adults directed at children. Kids tune shows out. But good children's theater is a dialogue between the characters and each individual child.
And City Rep has put together a good one. The bite-sized audience is enthralled from the opening moments when four brow-beaten British children - Toni Davis, Brad Skinner, Emily Parker and Jared Christensen find the secret passage to the mythical world of Narnia.
And they stay with the show until the final curtain call.
City Rep's land of Narnia - complete with fog machines, revolving sets, stark costuming and weird creatures portrayed in broad, stagey gestures - is enchanted and enchanting. But unlike Oz and Never-never-land, Narnia is actually a land where religion - not just magic - comes into play.
Author C.S. Lewis was one of the most beloved Christian writers of all time, and he laced this story for children with overtones of Christianity. King Aslan the Lion (Cliff Cole) must die and come back to life in order to save the children, for instance, and the White Witch (Cheryl Ann Cluff) and her cohorts personify fallen angels.
For such reasons, adults accompanying kids to the show seem to be as taken with it as their children. The two levels create a fine night of theater for everyone.
The whole show holds tight, but a few contributions should be singled out. Cole, as the Lion Aslan, is the most complicated character in the play. And he weds a regal bearing and voice with fierceness, nobility and vulnerability. A sterling job. The children have been well-coached in both British accents and stage presence, and most everyone will feel a soft spot for Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (Nancy Bush and Steve Nichol). Perry Coe is wonderfully animated as Mr. Tumnus.
And credit Joanne M. Parker for both adapting and directing the busy, yet crisp, choreography and managing the constant scene changes.
In short, the production has "hold over" written all over it.
Children's theater doesn't get any better than this.