Nancy Sasso Janis
OnStage Connecticut Critic / Connecticut Critics Circle
Naugatuck,CT - The PTO at Andrew Avenue Elementary School in Naugatuck funded a performance of ‘The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe’ by Shakesperience Productions on January 17, 2017. The Waterbury-based company has already booked 60 performances for this year of the adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic novel. The play for young audiences was directed by Emily Mattina and has a run-time of 50 minutes, the perfect length for young children.
What this director does well is make sure that the students are prepared for the production. The preshow covers some vocabulary words including “faun” and the concept of an adaptation in kid-friendly language. The two actors briefly introduced the characters in the story that they would be playing and invited the audience to keep an eye out for bits on mime. They also had pre-selected five students to come up and demonstrate getting into character as the beaver.
Best of all, the duo introduced the students and teachers to a short list of “master words.” These important words were demonstrated in American Sign Language; two important concepts were “responsible” and “compassionate,” in addition to the four seasons, the retelling concepts of beginning, middle and ending, and the signs for a few of the imaginary characters in the story.
The Andrew Avenue students were engrossed throughout the magical journey into the world of Narnia. There was plenty of exciting action and engaging dialog, and the assembled children were thoroughly entertained as well as educated. They were encouraged to use their imagination and clearly were paying attention to the character development. During the brief talkback session following the show, they proved that they had been paying attention. They knew that Peter was the responsible sibling, Lucy was compassionate and Edmund was a bit of a bully, which was the perfect opportunity for the actors to offer some tips on dealing with a bully.
The two young actors in the cast both did a great job of engaging their young audience. Nate Higgins, who told me that he earned his BFA at Niagara University, switched characters seamlessly and made sure that the students went with him. This young man was effective no matter if he was a lion, a faun, or one of the brothers. The female characters were played well by Claudia Gage, a graduate of Youngstown University in Ohio. This cast of two had to do it all, including tech, props and stage crew, and we got to watch.
Microphones taped to the floor helped to mark out the circle in which the two cast members became the various characters in the story and occasionally stepped outside of it to address the audience. There was a soundtrack by Bela Bartok that played throughout and was only a bit too loud for those of us seated closest to the speakers. The simple scenery was just enough to set the scene and one interesting stool served as storage for the witch’s robe and a prop or two. A beautifully painted circular disk changed the seasons in Narnia.
The actors were careful to thank the organization that brought this company to our school not once, but twice. I have seen several Shakesperience productions for young audiences and have never been disappointed. Schools interested in bringing the fine arts to their school can contact Bilal Tajildeen, Marketing & Operations Manager, to select a date for Shakesperience to bring The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe to your students. Mr. Higgins shared that next season will include ‘Jungle Book.’
Nancy Sasso Janis (@nancysjanis417) is one of the newest members of the Connecticut Critics Circle and continues to contribute theatre news to Patch.com. Check out her Facebook page Connecticut Theater Previews.
Photos by Nancy Sasso Janis