Olympia Family Theater opens its season with “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”

Contributing writerSeptember 27, 2013 

Myia Caldwell (Lucy), from left, Sam Johnson (Peter), Xander Layden (Edmund) and Kaylie Rainer (Susan) perform in Olympia Family Theater’s new production of C.S. Lewis’s classic “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

COURTESY OF DINEA DE PHOTO

Olympia Family Theater is starting its season next week with a journey through a wardrobe into the land of Narnia.

Joseph Robinette’s adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s classic “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” opens Oct. 4.

The story of four children who find themselves caught up in an epic battle is a favorite of the theater’s co-founders, Samantha Chandler and Jen Ryle, and of director Jon Tallman.

“I have wanted to do this story since we started OFT,” Ryle said. “The Chronicles of Narnia were some of my favorite books when I was little. My mom and I read them aloud to each other.

“I still remember that feeling that a magical world could be waiting for me behind the next door I opened.”

“It was one of those stories that I knew of forever,” Tallman said. “I grew up on ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ and ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’ For whatever reason, those two stories were the earliest novels I knew of.”

But though Narnia is a land they — and most older members of the audience — have visited before, this Narnia will be a new adventure, the director said.

“I don’t really want to present the Narnia we all expect and want to see,” said Tallman, who’s making his OFT directorial debut. “I wanted to reinvent some of the imagery and some of the characters. If this were the first time we’d ever seen the story, what would we want it to look like?”

The biggest change will be in the character of Aslan, the lion whom author Lewis described as an alternative Christ, or what Christ might have been had he come into form in the world of Narnia.

“Aslan is played as a woman, and the story is set during the time of a civil war between pagan powers,” Tallman said. “That was our biggest choice. We will present the same story, the same ideas, but in a way that people might not be prepared for.”

Aslan is still a lion, the director said, but she is also a goddess archetype.

While that is a big shift from the original’s Christian roots, the story’s essence remains, he said.

“In every religion and every culture, you find stories of redemption and rebirth,” he said. “The possibility of hope for the future exists in every religion.”

The production is also set apart from other versions of Narnia by the addition of music, composed by local musician David Bacon to underscore battle scenes and transitions.

Music and movement are used to create stylized battle scenes — an important part of remaining true to the story while keeping it appropriate for younger audience members.

Movement also sets the stage for the fantasy world quite literally, Tallman said.

“There are four actors playing wood nymphs,” he said. “They do a lot of the set transitions. They’re essentially the magic of Narnia.”

The set is constructed largely of fabric, he said, and the nymphs do a lot of the set changes as part of the show.

Though it’s a streamlined take on an epic tale, the show has 17 actors — more than any previous Olympia Little Theater show with an adult cast — and some play multiple roles.

“We really tried to strip it down to the smallest needed number of people, and even that is a big group,” Tallman said. “And the tech crew is just as large; we have just as many people behind the stage as in front of it.” ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’

What: Olympia Family Theater journeys into its eight season with an adaption of C.S. Lewis’ classic fantasy.

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 4, 10-11, 17-18, 24 and 25; 1 p.m. Oct. 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, 26 and 27; and 4:30 p.m. Oct. 26

Where: The Black Box at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia

Tickets: $16 general admission; $12 for students, seniors and military; $9 for children 12 and younger. For the Oct. 10 show, pay what you can (at the door with cash or a check).

Season tickets: Buy tickets to multiple shows for a discount.

Information: olyft.org or 360-570-1638, or for tickets, olytix.com or 360-753-8586

Also: The show is recommended for ages 6 and older.

THE REST OF THE SEASON

“Lyle the Crocodile” (Nov. 30-Dec. 22): a playful musical about a crocodile who turns up in a New York City apartment and makes friends with its residents.

“The House at Pooh Corner” (Feb. 7-23): based on the book by A.A. Milne, in which Christopher Robin decides to run away with Pooh and the rest of his animal friends.

“Orphan Train” (April 4-20): about nine orphans who leave New York City in 1914 on a train bound for the Midwest. They’re in search of new homes and families.

“Three Tales With Eight Tails” (May 23-June 15): an original adaptation by Mark Gerth that will combine actors and puppets to tell stories from three fairy tales.

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