‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ set for February 27 at IAHS

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

Usually by this time — two weeks before the curtain rises, the year’s big production — IAHS Indian Players director Victoria Blake is pulling out her hair.

But not this year, she said.

“We’re actually really enjoying it this year,” Blake said with a laugh. “It’s a lot less stressful than usual.”

Part of the reason for the lower stress levels is that this year’s production, based on C.S. Lewis’ classic children’s book, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” isn’t an elaborate musical, something the Indian Players have been tackling annually for more than half a decade. This year, there are no huge musical numbers to choreograph or songs to memorize; there’s just a story to be told — a good one at that.

The play will open on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the Fulton Grammar School with three matinee performances for area students. On Thursday, Feb. 28, and Friday, March 1, the play will be open to the general public with 7 p.m. shows both evenings. Finally, on Saturday, March 2, there will be two performances: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Because past productions have been so popular, seats are expected to fill quickly. Tickets may be purchased from the school in advance of a performance or at the door.

The production is being directed by Blake and IAHS graduate McKenzie King, who performed as Belle in last year’s production of “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.”

The primary cast includes Chris Johnson as Aslan, Valerie Blake as the White Witch, Joe Douglas as Tumnus, Noah Lacastro and Eliza Johnson as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver and Anna Robinson, Adam Whitten, Madi Everhart and Cole Holland as siblings Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter.

For those unfamiliar, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” tells the story of the Pevensie children — Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy — who stumble through their uncle’s wardrobe into the magical world of Narnia: A world of fantastic creatures but beset by endless winter. The tale is renowned not just for its adventure, but the Christian themes at its heart.

Blake said the stage adaptation of beloved author C.S. Lewis’ most famous work has a strong story to tell with themes that are relatable to both children and adults. The story carries themes about sacrifice and looking beyond the surface of things. It’s slightly heavier material for the group, something Blake feels comfortable exploring.

“It was a play that many of the kids wanted to perform and I knew would appeal to the community,” Blake said. “It’s a really lovely story.”

It’s just the kind of change the group needed, she said. She thinks their audience will like it, too.

“You don’t want to do the same thing all of the time,” Blake said. We’ve done so many musicals that I thought it was time for a change.”

But just because the production isn’t a musical doesn’t mean there aren’t some mountainous challenges to overcome. One of the greatest challenges with this year’s production is the scope and scale of Lewis’ story. Set in a fantasy world of perpetual winter (but never Christmas) in which talking animals and mythical creatures live together, the play offers its fair share of work for costume and set designers.

Fortunately, Blake said, she’s had a lot of help with both. Her mother-in-law, Barbara Blake, has been helping create the numerous costumes and creatures needed to tell the story — including the titular lion, Aslan — while her husband, Robert, has been helping craft the new sets and other large-scale props.

“They’ve really delivered,” Blake said of her volunteers.

Also tricky are the portrayals of many of the story’s central, non-human characters: Mr. Tumnus the faun; Mr. and Mrs. Beaver; and most notably, Aslan, who must be appear both fearsome and benevolent.

“[Aslan] couldn’t really be portrayed like the lion in “Wizard of Oz,” Blake said, adding that if Aslan appears too silly, the audience won’t be able to take the character seriously.

Equally important is the portrayal of the white witch, Jadis, who must be both friendly and dangerous.

“She can’t really be a bent over, evil kind of witch,” said Valerie Blake, who plays the character in the IAHS production. “She doesn’t really look like a witch. She has to have a sweet side and a mean side.”

It’s just one of the thousands of challenges that seem to face the group each year. But, as it always has in the past, everything is pulling together … with a lot less resistance this year, too.

“I’ve been having a blast,” Blake said. “My goal this year was to get through this entire year without having a mental breakdown. I think I’ve achieved that.”

adam.armour@journalinc.com