E.J. Dohring and Michelle VeziljAll the wonders in life that are there to be discovered if we’re willing to open windows and doors. Of course, some doors open us up to bigger adventures than others, as does a certain wardrobe in the home of a reclusive professor living in the English countryside. A wardrobe in which four children, World War II evacuees from London, will discover fauns, dwarfs, a variety of talking animals, a witch, a lion, and an epic battle between good and evil.

This classic children’s tale by C.S. Lewis, recently made into a hit film, was also turned into a musical that is currently being produced by Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix. The musical changes many details of the story to make the presentation on stage easier, but the essence and most important scenes of the story are there, mixed with a fairly good musical score. It also lightens up most of the darker scenes with humor so it won’t be quite as scary for younger kids.

Valley Youth Theatre and Director Bobb Cooper presents a visually impressive production, making the land of Narnia come alive on the stage. The set by Dori Brown is dominated by a skyline that can be seen as mountains or rocks depending on the scene. In the middle is movable ramp leading to a dais that is modified to fit several critical moments of the story. Lighting Designer Daniel Davison paints the set with gorgeous lighting effects that turn it from winter to spring and help enhance the many moods of the tale. And Karol Cooper transforms the human cast into residents of Narnia, including the patched-up apparel of the poor, cockney-talking beavers, the warmth of the lion Aslan, and the icy white and silver of the White Witch topped off with a silver crown that has the evil feel of a black widow’s web.

The cast ranges in ages from 8 to 18. The four English children are all around the age they are in the novel. Peter is played by Adam Moffitt who handles his heavy long sword with amusingly appropriate awkwardness until he finally needs it and the king inside him comes out. Abbie Maynard is a caring Susan with a bright smile and a sensible dread of danger. E.J. Dohring plays the selfish traitor, Edmund, who has delusions of grandeur and trouble admitting when he’s wrong. He keeps “unnerving” his younger sister Lucy played by Katie Wilkinson as a fiercely loyal and mostly sweet girl, but who is not at all keen on forgiving her bratty brother Edmund as we see in some humorous exchanges.

Then there are the colorful Narnians. Justin Rapp and Kim Sheperd are a hoot of a couple as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver who might just save the kids and all Narnia if they can stop their bickering long enough. Michelle Vezilj is the regally evil White Witch who uses her voice, forced smiles, and measured amounts of humor and coldness to get what she wants. What she really wants is to defeat the magic of Aslan, with Eddie Maldonado giving a terrific performance as his voice and manner fill the character with strength, comfort, and nobility. He helps ease Edmund’s inner turmoil in the beautiful From the Inside Out and then shares a haunting duet with the White Witch in Deep Magic.

Other fine performances come from Dallas Mogensen as Tumnus the faun, Reese Westhoff as the witch’s gruff sidekick dwarf, and Lauren LaFave as the no-nonsense Mrs. MacReady who doesn’t know quite what to do when the Pevensie children start singing a happy song around her. The White Stag (Brett Ponton) prances in and out of the theatre, usually in between scenes, and is joined by two reindeer (Sydney Marie Hawes and Sarah Hollands) in a mini-ballet to Tumnus reminiscing about the Narnia of old. The ensemble of “cruelie” Narnians are very much into their parts as they feel victory within their creepy grasp, and share a humorously memorable, slow motion, back-and-forth war against the nice, furry, good Narnians for power over the land behind the wardrobe.

Performs October 13-29, 2006.

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Ensemble: Gavin Brown
Ensemble: Rachel Brown
Father: Christmas Victor Cervantes
Ensemble: Matt Cordon
Edmund: E.J. Dohring
Ensemble: Shawn Hathcock
Ensemble: Sydney Hawes
Ensemble: Keegan Hill
Ensemble: Sarah Hollands
Ensemble: Cecilia Iole
Ensemble: Kelsey Johnson
Ensemble: Ryan Kitkowski
Mrs. McCready: Lauren LaFave
Ensemble: Michael Martinez
Femrus: William Marquez
Susan: Abbie Maynard
Aslan: Eddie Maldonado
Ensemble: Robin McBurney
Peter: Adam Moffitt
Ensemble: Christopher Moffitt
Ensemble: Jessica Moffitt
Tumnus: Dallas Mogensen
Ensemble: Amanda Petersen
Mr. Beaver: Justin Rapp
Mrs. Beaver: Kim Sheperd
Ensemble: Taylor Stephens
White Witch: Michelle Vezilj
Ensemble: Julius Visser
Ensemble: Yichao Wang
Dwarf: Reese Westhoff
Lucy: Katie Wilkinson
Ensemble: Samantha Wood


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