The first Lion King – a review of “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”

By Michael Buzzelli

Despite the weather, March roars in like a lion with the opening of “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.”

The Pevensie children, Peter (Jackson Conforti), Susan (Annabel Tew), Edmund (Eamonn McElfresh) and youngest Lucy (Molly Frontz) find a magic portal in a large, wooden wardrobe that leads to the realm of Narnia, an alternate reality of witches, dwarves and talking animals.

The book, published in 1950, by author C. S. Lewis, is probably the first recorded excursion into the multiverse (take that, Marvel, DC and Michelle Yeoh).

The kid’s journey has been prophesied. The four heroes are destined to join Aslan (Michael Barnett), and defeat Jadis, the White Witch (Rachel Pfenningwerth, channeling Cate Blanchette), the evil queen and usurper of Narnia.

The kids team up with Mr. & Mrs. Beaver (Anthony Luisi and Caitlin Young, respectively) on a journey to meet the Lion King.

“Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba Sithi uhm ingonyama!”

Not that Lion King.

Meanwhile, Edmund sneaks off to meet with the White Witch after having fallen under her spell, by ingesting enchanted candy, Turkish Delights.

However, when the witch tries to kill him, Edmund realizes that she’s pure evil. He is rescued, but the witch demands a life for a life by the old laws of Narnia, and Aslan sacrifices himself for Edmund’s transgressions.

As luck would have it, the lion is brought back to life and the Pevensie kids and their talking animal pals vanquish the queen in an epic battle.

Epic battle on a budget. We just see the highlights here.

The White Witch (Rachel Pfenningwerth) is the stranger offering candy to children, i.e. Edmund (Eamonn McElfresh). Photo Credit: Laura Slovesko

Like the book, the show is very Christian. The human children are called the “Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve” and Aslan is an allegorical stand-in for Jesus Christ.

There’s a weird bit where Santa Claus (Isaac Miller as Father Christmas) shows up and gifts the children with weapons, a sword and shield for Peter, a bow and quiver of arrows for Susan and a dagger and healing potion for Lucy.  I guess Edmund got coal because he was under the thrall of the evil queen at the time.

Note: C.S. Lewis had swords, arrows and healing potions before people were rolling 12-sided dice.

While preachy at times, the show never feels forced or condescending. It does get silly in parts, but the show is so well cast it’s forgivable due to the merits of the acting. The acting is superb.

The young actors even look like they came off the cover of the “Chronicles of Narnia” series.

As Lucy is the heroine of the book, Frontz is the star of the show. She’s terrific. Her lines are spoken with sincerity. It’s so cute she calls the fawn Tumnus (Andrew Lesnett) Mister Tumnus.

While Tew plays Susan with compassion, and Conforti plays Peter as the voice of reason, McElfresh gets to have an actual character arc, ping-ponging from good to evil and back again. He manages it with aplomb.

Barnett plays Aslan as a pious professor with a deafening roar. He towers over the cast, hidden under frizzy mane (thicker and more voluminous than 80’s hair band Twisted Sister) and leonine makeup by Laura R. Smith.

Pfenningwerth is delightfully evil as the White Witch. Her movements are slow, sharp and regal.

The White Witch’s evil hench dwarf (Matt Henderson) chewed the scenery and spit it back out with the verve of a Batman villain, grunting and gasping like Burgess Meredith’s Penguin.

There are a few deaths, Peter slays the wolf, Fenris Ulf (Trevor Buda), and a few more talking forest creatures bit the dust, but all-in-all “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is a fun romp for the whole family.

– MB

“The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” runs through March 12 at the New Hazlett Theatre, 6 Allegheny Square, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information, click here

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