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Kids 'n' creatures
C.S. Lewis' 'Narnia' gets the Savannah Children's Theatre treatment

It's got a lion, a witch and a wardrobe, a cast of thousands - well, a cast of about 75 - and an army of half-human creatures sporting hooves, horns and hair in strange and unexpected places.

The Savannah Children's Theatre's take on British fantasy writer C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" opens Friday, June 5, and while it's not the big-budget, celluloid CGI version from Disney, this production most certainly has its own unique selling point.

"Narnia," as it's called, is a musical, with music and lyrics by Tom Tierney and Ted Drachman. Playwright Jules Tasca wrote the book, adapting Lewis' famous first installment, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (told ya!).

You got your Aslan the brave lion, the despicable White Witch, kooky Mr. Tumnus and those precocious Penvensie children, who discover Narnia by rooting around in the back of an old wardrobe (kind of a stand-alone closet).

According to SCT founder and artistic director Kelie Miley, the cast - adults in the adult roles, kids in the kid roles, everyone who fits in a costume in the "magical creature" roles - has been in rehearsal for nearly three months.

"Narnia" is the second of this year's two mainstage (read: really big) productions (the first, in a similar vein, was Tolkein's "The Hobbit" back in January).

Rapidly approaching its 5th birthday, the Savannah Children's Theatre is a non-profit organization, run by a small staff and "an army of volunteers," Miley says. Essential things like set construction, scenic painting and prop-making are hired out.

"I had a plan for restrained growth, of manageable size, and it did not happen that way," she says of that tenuous first year. "We outgrew the place we were in."

In 2005, Miley approached the owner of the old Belk's storefront on Victory and Skidaway, in the Crossroads Shopping Center, and made an offer on leasing the massive facility, which had been vacant for two years.

Much to Miley's surprise and delight, the answer was yes, and she and her staff spent those first months wondering what they were going to do with all that space.

These days, there's a black box theater, in addition to the mainstage, with classrooms, rehearsal spaces and offices. It's getting tight in there.

The SCT offers classes for children of all ages - from beginners to advanced-level - in stagecraft, dance, improvisation, makeup, playwriting and all the other stuff associated with board-treading and thespianism.

There are school shows, and community shows, and shows that welcome anyone who wants to audition.

Miley enjoys watching young people discover the joys of theater.

"It's a thousand percent gratification, doing what we all do," she says. "That's absolutely the reason the volunteers and the people are there. Because certainly they're all smart, talented, gifted people and could make a lot more money anywhere else in the world."

The best, she says, is seeing otherwise shy kids emerge from their shells. "And that parent is in tears after the 12 weeks of the course the child gets in, saying ‘I can't believe my child could ever do this.' And then the kid just blossoms, socially and at school. It is a great, great thing."


Where: Savannah Children's Theatre, 2160 E. Victory Drive

When: June 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20 at 8 p.m.; June 6, 7, 13, 14, 20 and 21 at 3 p.m.

Tickets: $20 adults, $15 students

Phone: (912) 238-9015