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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 8 months ago

Foundation Academy gives royal treatment to ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’

‘Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia’
by: Jim Carchidi Former Associate Editor

Foundation Academy’s theater arts program is making a big impression with a classic children’s fantasy as “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” opens Friday, Nov. 5.

“We’ve never done this large of a production in the fall,” said Foundation Academy choir and drama teacher Laurlyn Smith, whose background is mostly in musical theater. “There are some musical elements to it, but nobody’s going to be breaking out in song for this one.”

The story begins in England, during World War II, and follows four siblings as they are evacuated to a countryside estate. A magical wardrobe brings them into the land of Narnia, where they help its rightful king, a lion named Aslan, win back his throne from the White Witch. Narnia’s enchanted environments, described in C.S. Lewis’ novel and portrayed in the 2005 film, have been a challenge and an inspiration for Smith and her students.

The production will take place on a proscenium stage in Foundation Academy’s Tilden Campus Gymnasium. The area is large enough to accommodate the conceptual design, which hints at sweeping scenic elements and grand interiors.

Amber Wilkins, left, vice president of Foundation Academy’s Fine Arts League, and Foundation choir and drama teacher Laurlyn Smith lift the head of the Aslan puppet, created by Wilkins, for the show.

“It’s very imaginative,” Smith said. “We have some large set pieces that will roll onto the stage. … The actors will have the opportunity to set the scenes with their actions and how they respond to everything around them.” 

The audience will also experience immersive aspects as characters and scenery will move into their environment. “We’re not just going to be on stage,” she said.

The entire production is an exercise in teamwork. Cast members are helping out behind the curtain, and drama students are painting sets and making props. One of Smith’s favorite stage effects is a giant puppet of Aslan.

“It’s very abstract,” she said. “It’s so big it has to be worked by three people.” 

But her favorite part of directing the play is watching the cast — many of whom had not read the book or seen the film — as they realize how it parallels their faith.

Edmund Pevensie, played by Kayla Daniel, and the White Witch, played by Ashley Nadeau.

“Something that’s been really amazing about this show is how the storyline and the gospel line up — the message, the themes of sacrifice and forgiveness,” she said. “It’s been amazing to watch the students discover that. We talked a little about it at the beginning, but I wanted them to find it for themselves.”

Masks are optional for cast and audience members, but some precautions are observed for safety’s sake. 

“We try to be conscious of staying distant when we can — just trying to be safe and make sure nobody gets quarantined before the show,” Smith said.

Foundation Academy’s spring production will be a musical and has yet to be announced. Auditions are set for December, and rehearsals will begin in January 2022. Smith is excited to use the lessons of directing “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” to produce larger shows and grow the theater program but admits experience must come in different sizes.

“Bigger isn’t always better,” she said. “We want to slip in some smaller, fun things for the students. I want to give them as many experiences as I possibly can to prepare them for the future, if they choose to do theater. And if they don’t, then they will have all of this to look back on.”

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Jim Carchidi was an associate editor for the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and 


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