Friday, May 13, 2011

Your journey to Narnia begins tonight...

Cedar Rapids - Jason Alberty says the Chronicles of Narnia books are about one thing in particular: The unbounded human imagination.

So he hopes the audience is ready to unleash that imagination when they see The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe come to life onstage at Theatre Cedar Rapids.

“I want this show to be magical,” says the director, who’s helming the massive production that performs May 13-28.

The movie versions of The Narnia books have been a box-office force in recent years, with the third installment, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, earning more than $400 million at the box office. Computer-generated animals like the ones in the movies are something the stage can’t do.

Some directors might think that’s a limitation. But Alberty feels exactly the opposite. By taking away the special effects, he says, TCR’s production can focus more on imagination.

“Joni Sackett has designed some wonderful costumes for this show,” Alberty says. “When we were in pre-production I wanted to make sure that we weren’t simply going to put animal costumes on stage, and she had beat me to that idea. She’s created these great human clothes that hint at their animal characters. That, along with our actors’ attention to animal-like movement, will make it easy for the audience’s imagination to fill in the rest.”

If you aren’t familiar with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, here’s the story in a nutshell: Four children wander through the door of an old wardrobe, and discover a world of magic and talking animals on the other side. They discover new friends like Tumnus the Faun and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, but quickly find themselves in the middle of a war between Aslan the noble lion, and the evil White Witch.

Fans of the books may notice a change in TCR’s version, however. Alberty has chosen to update the story and remove all British references from the script (the original books took place in WWII-era London).

“We’ve set the ‘real’ world in America, today’s America,” Alberty says. “No phony British accents, no British cultural allusions. It’s all updated.

“I want this show to be as accessible to our kids as possible,” Alberty continues. “I want each boy and girl in the audience to be able to imagine themselves as Lucy and Susan or Edmund and Peter. I think bringing the setting home will help with that. I don’t think losing the War diminishes anything from this telling of the story.”

Theatre Cedar Rapids will stage the show with as much visual splendor as possible, thanks in part to Derek Easton’s lighting design and a set created by Richie Akers.

“Richie Akers has designed a really fun set, riffing on my Americanization of the story,” Alberty says. “The set is an abstract nod to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. I think it should be a lot of fun to act on.”

While this is a family show, the creative team is quick to point out that there are scary moments.

“Remember, in this show, the books, the movie, there is death,” Alberty says. "There are really scary characters doing horrible things to each other. That is what makes the redemption, the good side winning in the end, so powerful.

“We have a dance in the show that is, quite frankly, kind of scary,” Alberty adds. “But it needs to be. The world is scary. But we need to know that we can conquer those scary things. So, use your parental judgment.”

In the end, Alberty hopes that more people — young and old alike — discover the magc of the stage by giving The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe a try.

“Broadway has been working really hard to blur the lines between stage and screen lately, but I think that’s a mistake,” he says. “Actors performances change because each audience is different. That makes stage much more alive and interesting to me. ... I want people to leave this show forgetting the movie.”

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe will be performed May 13-28. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, as well as a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Sunday, May 22. Tickets are $20 or $25 ($15 for students), with $12 rush tickets available at the door. For tickets or more information, call 366-8591 or visit

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