"THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE," Fridays and Saturdays through Jan. 5, Utah Children's Theatre, 3605 S. State Street, South Salt Lake (801-532-6000 or uctheatre.org); running time: 2 hours (one intermission)
Editor's note: This is part of an ongoing Deseret News series highlighting Utah's community theater programs.
SOUTH SALT LAKE — Utah Children's Theatre’s production of C.S. Lewis’ "The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe," running through Jan. 5, opens the door wide open for the wintery world of Narnia — with its charm, danger, hope and triumph — to flourish on stage.
Just about everyone knows the classic fairytale, and it’s no different here. Escaping the dangers of war, Pevensie siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are sent away to live in a large countryside home. It’s there where they stumble through a wardrobe and step into the fantastical world of Narnia. It isn’t long before they learn of the dangerous White Witch, who sends her servants to hunt the children down. The children must turn to the great lion Aslan to stop the witch, as well as their Narnian friends, which include talking animals, dryads and fauns, among other fantasy creatures.
The four Pevensie children are at the center of the story, and the production’s young actors do a fine job filling their roles. Seth Jones as Peter, Maggie Lea as Susan, Wyatt Cernyar as Edmund and Helene Parker as Lucy burst with excitement and energy as they step through the wardrobe and venture into Narnia. The looks of awe on their faces when they first discover the world in the wardrobe is enough to fill the audience’s imagination with thick forests, white mountains and dancing snowflakes.
Though Peter, the oldest of the Pevensie children, is crowned "High King" of Narnia, the heart of the story has always been with the youngest of the siblings: Lucy and Edmund. Thankfully, Parker and Cernyar — among the youngest members of the cast — capture the essence of Lewis’ characters. Parker’s Lucy is wide eyed and innocent, joyful and caring, bringing out the good in those she meets. Meanwhile, Cernyar has a knack for tapping into Edmund’s spoiled nature. He’s brattish, short-tempered and naïve, which only makes his redemption all the more rewarding.
But the production isn’t exclusively filled with child actors. There’s a good mix of talent on stage. Most notable are siblings Brinton and Brooke Wilkins, who play the legendary characters Aslan and the White Witch, respectively. This take on Aslan is different from Liam Neeson’s memorable portrayal in Disney’s 2005 film. Wilkins is tough and fierce with a powerful roar to match. His performance makes for a couple excellent moments, particularly when he’s face to face with the White Witch, who proves to be cold and intimidating in both word and look thanks to a talented (and classically evil) performance.
There are small touches of charm throughout the production, too. The trembling excitement of the beavers, the coy movements of the deer, the soothing dance transitions between scenes — they all tap into that old-time magic that Narnia is known for.Comment on this story
There’s a little something here for everyone in the family, making it the perfect holiday outing. Parents will enjoy rediscovering the magic of Narnia, and it’s a solid introduction to the world for young children. Perhaps most importantly, the production is true to the spirit of C.S. Lewis. There are moments of darkness and dread, but it’s the triumphant message of hope, mercy and love that makes the show magical.
Content advisory: "The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe" is recommended for anyone at or above age 4, according to Utah Children’s Theatre. Though dark and ominous imagery, as well as sudden loud noises, might spook some of the audience’s youngest members. Utah Children's Theatre encourages parents of very young children to "review the story."