Anyone who fears for the future of the arts should make it a point to go see the Connie Company’s production of Narnia at the Armour Street Theater in Davidson. (That’s if you can get a ticket; the show has almost sold out its initial run and has added a performance to accommodate the crowds.) The youth education arm of the Davidson Community Players, the Connie Company offers classes and camps and presents productions that feature actors aged 8-18.
If the current production of Narnia is any indication, the Connie Company is providing a superior education for its participants and is rearing a whole new generation of skilled and enthusiastic artists. There were so many things to applaud that one hardly knows where to start.
With the exception of the recorded soundtrack, a necessity in the intimate theater, the production value was very high – no skimping just because it’s a “kids’” show – and gave the actors a professional setting in which to work. The set was simple, but cleverly conceived. The play began in front of the stage, with a giant wardrobe standing majestically in the center (Narnia is a musical version of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). When the children opened the wardrobe doors, the stage curtains behind it opened too, to reveal the land of Narnia. More impressive were the costumes, designed by Chris Lundsten: fauns, beavers, squirrels, wolves, and of course, the icy White Witch and regal Aslan, the lion.
The highest praise, though, is for the performance itself. Melissa Ohlman-Roberge, former artistic director* of the Davidson Community Players, has created a first-rate ensemble of nearly 30 performers. She has excellent students to work with, and their talent is genuine, but what stood out is what they’ve been taught, as much as what they were born with. The students projected their lines, without yelling; every word was clearly delivered (although the British accents were more distracting than convincing). They moved confidently and efficiently throughout the theater; even at the very first performance, there were no wrinkles to iron out in the staging. They worked together and responded to each other in a natural and integrated manner. And – particularly remarkable – they sang beautifully. So often, musical theatre encourages actors to bellow, and young people, especially, fall prey to the temptation to belt their high notes. Kudos to Ohlman-Roberge and Musical Director John Smith for eliciting lovely, clear tones and balanced harmonies from these singers.
All of the principal performers did extraordinarily well, but I will highlight four. Samantha Rockhill, as the mute White Stag, danced with exceptional grace. Libby Hatfield and Sierra Key, as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, were a hilarious duo, fondly bickering and chattering like a couple that had been together for years. And KC Roberge was an imposing – and brash – White Witch. Unlike C.S. Lewis’s White Witch, Narnia’s evil queen provoked chuckles as well as shivers. She’s full of herself and larger than life (her exaggerated make-up and coiffure suggested a frosty Tammy Faye Baker), with a cartoonish Russian accent and a dwarf assistant who scratches incessantly. Roberge played her to the hilt.
Narnia, with book by Jules Tasca, lyrics by Ted Drachman, and music by Tom Tierney, premiered in 2008. The story is necessarily truncated, making the characters less fully developed than in the novel. There is little time, for example, to really convey the depth of Edmund’s weaknesses or the fullness of Tumnus and Lucy’s friendship. But the plot holds together and moves along briskly in this 90-minute production. The songs are pleasant enough, although unremarkable. Only one truly stands out – not for its tune, but for its buoyant tap routine, choreographed for the show by Emily Hunter and joyously danced by the cast: “Wot a Bit O’ Spring,” which celebrates Aslan’s thaw of Narnia’s eternal winter.
Narnia continues through Sunday, November 17. For more information on this production, please view the sidebar.
*Edited/corrected 11/19/13: "I am no longer the artistic director for the company; I stepped down a year ago to spend more time with family and diversify my projects! I was the director of this production as an independent contractor. Best, Melissa Melissa Ohlman-Roberge"