Ty Hite, right, drags a wooden sword across the stage during a rehearsal for “Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” at Jefferson Street United Methodist Church Wednesday evening.
JAY SOWERS/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Ty Hite, right, drags a wooden sword across the stage during a rehearsal for “Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” at Jefferson Street United Methodist Church Wednesday evening.

Archived Story

Musical brings C.S. Lewis to life

Published 12:31am Sunday, April 21, 2013

Jefferson Street United Methodist Church isn’t known for its witches.

Or its lions.

But this month the church’s youth group wants to give members of the public a dinner before taking them to a spare room, hiding them in a wardrobe and leading them out to a magical world on the other side that has not only lions and witches, but talking beavers, fauns and dwarfs.

The youth group will present “Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” April 24-28. The production is an annual fundraising event for the youth group’s activities.

But youth advisor John Hudson said that while the productions are fun, they are meant to serve as teaching experiences.

JAY SOWERS/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Sarah Rodriguez, right, assumes the role of the White Witch during a practice for the annual dinner theater production.
JAY SOWERS/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Sarah Rodriguez, right, assumes the role of the White Witch during a practice for the annual dinner theater production.

“We began the process years ago as an opportunity for kids to be involved in presentations that deal with religious or moral or theological themes,” Hudson said. “We always try to focus on themes that are theological, themes of great sacrifices people have done — while they are entertaining, that is not our primary focus. This year’s play is no exception to that mission.”

The youth production is a musical that follows the story of C.S. Lewis’ classic children’s allegory of the same name. When four siblings — two brothers, two sisters — are playing hide-and-seek one day, they discover a hidden magical world inside a wardrobe. That world, Narnia, is ruled by a usurper — the White Witch — who eventually corrupts one of the siblings, Edmund.

In the end, the true ruler of the world, the lion Aslan, sacrifices his own life to redeem Edmund, later returning from the dead to defeat the White Witch.

Trey Hand, 16, plays Aslan. He said the fact that the character was so strongly portrayed in a film adaptation a few years ago and the fact that Aslan is an obvious Christ figure sets the bar very high for his own performance.

“Definitely look past the outward appearance of the play and try to see the hidden meaning in all we do,” he said. “There is a scene between Edmund and me that appears to be a father-son moment, but it is really a reconciliation moment and it is about how God is forgiving humanity for their sins.”

Jefferson Street United Methodist Church youth group leader John Hudson offers instructions to a stage of actors during a practice for “Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”
Jefferson Street United Methodist Church youth group leader John Hudson offers instructions to a stage of actors during a practice for “Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”

Phillip Roberts, 14, portrays Edmund. As an actor, he said he draws from his own humanity and experiences to power the performance.

“I think of it as an eye-opener — I think of myself, of the things I do in my everyday life affecting my friends and family,” he said.

“When we go through some scenes like when I am with Aslan, I am basically reconciling back to him, and it really is an eye-opener about coming back to God after we mess up; there is always that extra chance.”

While the production keeps with the basic Narnian storyline, the church’s youth have done some creative reinterpreting.

“It is supposed to be abstract, so I will be looking more like a primitive warrior than a lion,” Hand said. “I will have more of a tan bottom with tan stripes across the chest. John got some dreadlocks that I am not very fond of, which is annoying but does go with the look. I will also have colored contacts that look like the sun because there’s a scene between Edmund and me where he is supposed to look into my eyes and say, ‘I can’t, it is like looking into the sun.’”

Hudson said the group has in the past wanted to do a Narnian play, but could not find one they felt adequately expressed the theological message Lewis wanted to convey. This year, however, they found one — but it was a musical.

“We don’t do musicals, but after we read the script it was so powerful and the writing was so powerful that it captured what C.S. Lewis was attempting to put forward,” Hudson said. “The kids read it and decided we have enough voices that we can pull it off.”

Hand said he has never done musical theater work before, and that the daily hours-long practice the cast has had to do has started to pay off.

“I play guitar and sing, but I have never really done anything voice-centered before, so this is definitely a new experience,” he said.

Roberts likewise said the experience has been very different than the previous production he did with the youth group.

“It is so difficult,” he said. “Last year we had our lines and everything, and that was new remembering so many lines and acting. Now it is the lines, the acting and now you have to remember the songs and how to sing them.

“It really is hard when you get on stage because the music we have, you have to be perfectly on time with your lines and the song.”

Hudson said that difficult work is starting to pay off.

“As we entered this week, things really stated coming together,” he said “We have several people helping with the music, working with (the actors) daily on the music while we have been working daily on the actual play practices itself. The songs, the blocking started coming together, and I think it is going to be a thrilling experience.”

Tickets are $16 for adults, $12 for youth 10 to 17 and $6 for children younger than 10.

Tickets can be obtained from any Jefferson Street youth group member or by e-mailing jeffersonstreetdinertheater@gmail.com.