Classic tale is set to music in latest offering from Encore

The evil White Witch (Maria McLemore) squares off against Aslan the lion (Sean House) in the Encore Stage & Studio production of “Narnia.” (Cindy Kane Photography)

Time flies: It was seven seasons ago that Encore Stage & Studio last dipped into the pantheon of C.S. Lewis with a production of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Fast-forward to 2020, and the troupe takes on a musical version of the tale with a year-opening production of “Narnia.”

Whether adding music to the story is beneficial remains an open question – more on that later – but the large cast performed admirably in a show that, while long for Encore (2 hours) did not feel heavy or draggy.

Synopsis: Four siblings have been relocated to a country estate to avoid bombs raining down on England in World War II, and almost immediately find themselves transported, through a magical clothes wardrobe, to the land of Narnia, where winter reigns supreme and a nasty witch ensures that her will is obeyed.

But those calling Narnia their home have never lost hope that the honorable lion Aslan will make his return, depose the witch and restore not just all that is good and just, but springtime too.

Lewis’s work certainly contains a good deal of allegory that will whiz right over the heads of younger members of the audience, but they will appreciate the tale of good vs. evil, and of standing together as a community.

Casting was solid, with the four portraying the siblings (Thomas Gannon, Erica Lu and Miranda Tonsetic, along with Alex Valencic as the rebellious one who befriends, but quickly is betrayed, by the witch) up to the task.

It’s always fun to play a villain, and Maria McLemore was solid as the witch. She also offered up one of the strongest singing voices of the night. (Also enjoyable was her crabby sidekick, portrayed by Riley Dennis.)

Doing a solid job in supporting roles were Meredith Lawler and Maegan McBride as a pair of goodhearted, but bickering, beavers, and Caroline Egan as the nasty chief of the secret police.

Sean House as Aslan the lion doesn’t appear on the scene until the end of the first act, but makes a solid impression throughout the remainder of the show.

As noted earlier, the pace was solid; credit director Sarah Markovits for moving things along. Costumes (Debra Leonard), sets (Kristen Jepperson) and lighting (Gary Hauptman) were up to Encore’s usual high standards.

Sound was a bit of a challenge during a well-attended Sunday matinee; microphones briefly cut out (but were quickly restored) and the music at times overwhelmed the abilities of the young performers.

As for the caliber of the musical offerings themselves, some were strong – songs of the witch among them – and some could have been done away with. Everyone’s a critic, including the critics ...

“Narnia” proves an effort to embellish a classic, crowd-pleasing tale. Despite the occasional demerit noted above, I’d say the production has hit its mark.

“Narnia” continues through Jan. 19 at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre in Arlington. For tickets and information, see the Website at www.encorestage.org.

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