Sunday, May 17, 2015
"I'm a Lion, but really Jesus": Narnia: The Musical
I took Lily to see the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre's production of Narnia the Musical at the Charles Brown Ice House. We had seen Mock Turtle there a few years back, and the Ice House tends to book quality acts.
I have a complicated relationship with Narnia. The only way to make the allegory less subtle would be to name Aslan "Lion Jesus", A Horse and His Boy seems kind of racist to modern sensibilities, and The Last Battle is just a mess. However, I consider The Magician's Nephew one of the finest Young Adult fantasy novels ever written, placing it ahead of even The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which is rightly considered a classic.
My phone took me to the PYT headquarters instead of the Ice House, so we had to hustle to get there on time. We got there at 4:45 for the 5:00 showing, and that gave Lily a little time to run around in the playground.
They did the bit you often find in productions of Peter Pan (the same actor plays Mr. Darling and Captain Hook), casting the same performers in the dual roles of Professor Kirke and Aslan, and Mrs. Macready and the White Witch. Consequently, Mrs. Macready had a somewhat expanded role.
Richard Koons, an adult actor appearing as Aslan and the Professor, through an arrangement with the Actors' Equity Association was good. He might have been too good. The kids ranged from good to great (Lucy, Edmund, the Witch her dwarf and the Beavers were really just outstanding), but the word that jumped to mind to describe him was "overwhelming". He was great, and it's not fair to compare an adult professional to amateur kids, but he tended to dominate the scenes he was in.
The plot was essentially an abridged version of the book. One change was that Susan and Peter arrive in Narnia before their siblings return. This is fine, it streamlines the plot, but it undercuts an exchange that immedietly follows, where Edmund claims that Lucy is crazy because she said she talked to a faun. As the conversation is taking place in a magical forest accessed through a wardrobe, her claim no longer seems as prima facie ridiculous as it would have elsewhere. Other changes were Father Christmas leaving a present for Edmund (a morning star), and the good army being forced back to Jadis's castle, where Aslan breathed the petrified friendly creatures back to life. In the book, he and the girls took a detour to do this, and then bring them back to the battlefield. I think this change makes for a stronger narrative.
They also called the Professor "Professor Digory" and "Uncle Digory", which might be a change, or simply a term of endearment.
I could take or leave most of the songs, except for "Deep Magic", which I really enjoyed. The kids were solid with their singing and Koons was great. It had some fun details, like Mrs. Beaver using a rolling pin in the final battle.
I liked the whole experience. We both dug it, and it's great to see kids performing. If you're in the area, check out Pennsylvania Youth Theatre website.