As I arrived at Overture Center's Playhouse Friday night, visions of Zoo Animals on Wheels filled my head. I was leery of a musical version of Narnia. However, by the end of the evening, I was struck by how Children's Theater of Madison usually manages to get it right. The troupe presents professional-looking and -sounding productions that are welcoming for families and achieve a nice balance of child and adult cast members.
In this adaptation of C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, four British siblings temporarily move to a country estate during World War II and encounter a magical wardrobe that leads to a fantasy land. There, it turns out, they are the highly anticipated "Sons of Adams and Daughters of Eve" and figure prominently in the local mythology. They help the right-minded residents overthrow a ruthless White Witch with the help of the deposed leader/resident Christ figure Aslan the Lion.
Sometimes the songs in musicals strike me as lazy, lame or just forgettable, or worse end up being unintentionally laughable (see: Zoo Animals on Wheels), but happily there are actually some pleasant and hummable songs in this production and quite a few good singers performing them.
As Lucy, Kailey Boyle is appropriately plucky and has a clear, sweet voice. She shares some very nice scenes with Tumnus the faun (Michael Hartung, who radiates kindness and whose fuzzy haunches and hooves are perfect). Wendy Jones Hill as the diabolical White Witch has a powerful voice and an imposing presence, with yards of shimmery white fabric and a crown of icicles. Her itchy, hunchbacked henchman, David Miller, has lots of fun on stage, and two of their numbers, "Turkish Delight" and "Hot and Bothered," are highlights.
The friendly and helpful Beavers help guide the siblings to safety, and as played by Lee Waldhart and Rebecca Raether, they are genuinely funny (the cuteness quotient goes through the roof when their four tiny babies appear -- awwwww). Philip Staley as Aslan has a rich, warm voice, and when he sings "From the Inside Out" with Edmund (young Jon Olsen, who captures the duplicitous and impulsive nature of his character), they are bathed in a yellow light that adds to the loveliness of the number.
The action is for the most part engaging (aside from a few draggy scenes), so director Roseann Sheridan should be commended for smoothly managing the large cast and assembling an excellent team of collaborators. Scenic designer Charles J. Trieloff II manages to create a magical land, largely with the use of striking birch trees that are surprisingly versatile. The costumes from Jennifer Brewster are inspired and well constructed -- particularly the woodland animals'. Jan Ross' makeup is impressive, especially for creatures like the owl and bunny. W. Earle Smith's choreography provides some nice moments, like the ballet solos for the White Stag (Marguerite Luksik, dancing prettily).
We had three kids with us at the performance, ages 5, 9 and 10, and they unanimously liked the show, despite what they described as a few sleepy songs -- and I caught my husband humming one of the songs when we got home. I imagine that kids who have enjoyed the Narnia books and films would be happy to check out this production.