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Animals center stage in Children's Theatre 'Wardrobe'

{img:9138}A dapper, tuxedo-clad lion, a witch and a cast of 44 will take the stage this Thursday, Feb. 14, when Oregon City Children’s Theatre presents “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

The production, directed by OCCT founder Michelle Leigh, is based on C.S. Lewis’ book of the same name, and is staged in a way to take the audience to Narnia, right along with the four actors who play the Pevensie children.

The cast has five adults and nearly 40 children, most older than 10.

The plot follows the Pevensie children as they are evacuated from London during World War II. They find a wardrobe and a large closet in the home of Professor Kirke, and that leads them to the magical land of Narnia, where they encounter Aslan, a talking lion and the evil White Witch.

“The four children, the professor and his housekeeper are the only humans we meet in the real world, and the witch is the only human we meet in Narnia,” Leigh said. “All the rest of the characters are animals, and my vision was not to try to make them look like animals, but to look like humans, dressed in the likeness of that animal.”

Thus, Aslan will strut around stage clad in a butterscotch colored tuxedo, a brocade vest in shades of chocolate and a regal red and gold sash. And a hand-crafted lion mask, made by a professional mask maker — it will especially delight the younger members of the audience, Leigh said.

Beth Dodge, Leigh’s 18-year-old daughter, plays the White Witch, and is normally “a kind, gentle soul” who plays the princess roles, Leigh said.

But for this role, she has tapped into her scary side and has learned to do tricks with her sword, which is almost as tall as her.

“It has been fun to see her become this great character and go into battle,” Leigh said.

Dodge also designed the “full-out animal” makeup for the show and has taught most of the characters to apply the stage makeup themselves.

OCCT has always embraced the idea of getting kids to realize they can do anything; to be empowered and take charge, Leigh said, adding, “It is fun to watch 10- and 12-year-olds putting on their faces.”

Special moments

When she directs, Leigh said, she tells her actors they have to make it real to themselves and that makes it real to the audience.

“I tell them to act based on emotion or intuition; when kids finds those moments, it moves me,” she said.

The really big moment in the show is the battle scene, and she hired a professional fight choreographer, John Armour, to stage it, Leigh said.

“He taught a phenomenal battle sequence with 40 actors, and it takes place on the audience floor area right up front and in the aisles; the audience is surrounded by the battle,” she noted.

“The battle put me to tears; there is intense music playing, and I have never done anything to that scale before,” Leigh said.

Ultimately, she wants the audience to realize that the whole show is about “taking a journey out of trust and love and following through to the end.”

She has also been moved by the journey of one of the actors in the show, 14-year-old Justin Dille, who has Asperger’s.

He was first in one of her shows six years ago, and he was very shy; last year she saw him take a leap out of his comfort zone, and this year he has taken a “huge jump” in playing Peter, the oldest Pevensie boy.

“He has taken on a British accent and learned a battle sequence. He also has two highly charged emotional moments in the play, one with Aslan when he thinks he’s a failure, and one when he thinks his brother is dead. To watch him grow has been amazing,” Leigh said.

Empowering children

The cast seems to be enjoying the process and characters are discovering things for themselves, she said.

“The crew is 99 percent children, including 12-year-olds on the stage crew, helped by some older cast members, and the lighting and sound crew is comprised of 14-year-olds, with some adult supervision.

“Backstage, we have six to eight parents whose goal is to guide the kids and help keep things organized. But the show is theirs — that has always been our goal,” Leigh said.

“We know who we are, and we are not trying to be something we’re not. We put on a good quality show, that is ample entertainment for the audience,” she said. “We provide a special opportunity for people in the community to do something they are passionate about. And it is always a beautiful end result.”

Fast Facts

Oregon City Children’s Theatre presents “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” Feb. 14, 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23.

All performances start at 7 p.m. at the old Oregon City High School’s Jackson Street Theatre, 1306 12th St., in Oregon City.

Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and children 12 and under. General admission tickets will be sold at the box office before each performance. The box office opens at 6 p.m. Doors to the theatre open at 6:30 p.m. Handicapped access and seating available (Please call ahead to reserve in this area).

Visit occtheatre.org for more information, and to find out about April auditions for the musical to be presented in June.

Oregon City Children’s Theatre is a nonprofit organization committed to providing the opportunity of performing and learning stage craft to any child who expresses the desire to learn it. The theatre is organized and run primarily by volunteer parents, family and friends. What makes the program unique is that all aspects of the show, onstage and off, are handled completely by the children.



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