REVIEW: The Planet Watches as Academy of Arts Ministries Debuts Spectacular ‘Prince Caspian’

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‘Prince Caspian’ is a wholly divine, almost cinematic feast on an epic scale with some 100 actors and stellar production values that are grandiose and idealistic on all levels.

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

After the international success of its production of C. S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” the Academy of Arts Ministries unfurled the long-awaited sequel “Prince Caspian” last weekend at The Logos Theatre in Taylors.

To state that this world premiere is a momentous occasion, would be a gross peccadillo. This sparkling new stage adaptation of the second published book in the iconic “The Chronicles of Narnia” series was written by Academy of Arts Ministries Artistic Director Nicole Stratton with the blessings of Lewis’ step-son, Douglas Gresham.

A former actor and minister and a co-producer on the four blockbuster Narnia theatrical films, Gresham has devoted a great portion of his life to preserving Lewis’ literary catalog. His childhood was featured in the 1993 film “Shadowlands” with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, who play Lewis and his mother American poet Joy Davidman, as a composite character with his brother David.

And Gresham spent the entire tech week preceding the premiere in Greenville consulting on the production and giving interviews to local media outlets.

The story picks up one year later as the Pevensie siblings await their the trains bound for boarding school when the train station suddenly collapses and the clan is magically transported back to Narnia.

Though some 1,300 years may have passed since they defeated the White Witch in the first chronicle, this mammoth production boasts an unparalleled continuity with the leads all returning for “Prince Caspian”: Jeremiah Johnson as the eldest Peter, Ariel Weaver as the brave archeress Susan, Nathan Wilson as the headstrong Edmund and Morgan Naegel as the youngest and most adventurous, Lucy.

If you remember the unprecedented live teaser in the prologue of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” the child Prince Caspian (a descendant of the savage Telmarines who destroy Narnia) is born and destined to rule Narnia humanely.

Four young actors seamlessly play the Prince: Benjamin Maciejack, Jr. as infant Caspian, Brinton Stratton as young Caspian, Brady Weaver as youth Caspian and ultimately, Sam Singleton as our young adult hero.

His uncle King Miraz (an ominous Christian Lamas) and Queen Prunaprismia (Dinah Bacher) plot to kill Caspian, the rightful heir to the throne, and the Pevensies (the former rulers of Narnia), restored with their sacred weapons, rally the denizens of Narnia to restore Caspian to the throne.

They are aided in this endeavor by the lion Aslan, the spectacular puppet again voiced by the Academy founder Nicky Chavers and operated by Justin Swain, Jeremiah Gould and Stephen Bjorkman.

And technical director and designer Ken Hines and his trio introduce a new, equally stunning character in this play ‑ Caspian’s sleek and majestic black horse, Detrrier, who is so eloquently engineered that Caspian is able to mount and ride the him, supported by the puppeteers.

All four of the leads have literally grown into these roles and were primed and practically flawless on an epic scale on opening weekend, as was the dashing Singleton as the royal.

Stratton is nuanced and maternally impassioned as the growing Caspian’s nurse who acts as a surrogate mother. And in the most heartwarming scene in this show, she tenderly comforts her real life son, Brinton, who is the young prince.

The remarkable Zachary Johnson is a welcome ally and confident for Caspian as Dr. Cornelius. Other standouts include the two dwarfs Trumpkin (John Harrett) and Nikabrik (Stephen Warren), the talking badger named Trufflehunter (Andrew Snow), not to mention dozens of talking and walking trees and beasts such as mice, centaurs, fauns and even a werewolf.

“Prince Caspian” is much darker than its predecessor and it features less whimsical spectacles from the creature world, and more emphasis on the human drama at hand.

Ms. Stratton’s almost cinematic vision propels plenty of visual eye candy and some aerial stunts, but her crowning achievement is the special effects in some truly breathtaking scenes. The splendid train station sequences and the exploding river bridge are alone worth the price of admission, not to mention the thrilling battle scene at its climax.

Joe Hainsworth’s innovative sets fill both worlds in brilliant fashion, especially the two piece full-scale cascading stone walkway as it spins on the Logos turntable stage.

Rachel Bjorkman’s costumes for both humans and creatures are multi-textured with a staggering diversity in her fabrics and materials selections. Kudos to the entire design team with Rachel Maciejack’s make-up, Stephen Warren’s realistic props, and Hannah Fake’s focused and sinister lighting.

The play is completely scored mostly with crisply-delivered Celtic-driven music (uncredited) with Olivia Pierce as sound designer.

And special recognition goes to Fell and Fair Productions who crafted the suit of armor and shield for Miraz.

My only quibble with this production is really its length, a staggering 3.5 hours including a short film and intermission, but hats off to the stamina of the cast and crew.

This is an incredibly ambitious project that has potential for a legacy-making work for Ms. Stratton, but condensing some of the narrated exposition and deleting a few scenes and minor subplots would make it more audience-friendly and manageable for other less well-equipped theatres to produce.

Noah Stratton is Executive Director of the Academy of Arts Ministries and “Prince Caspian” is co-produced by the C. S. Lewis Company.

“Prince Caspian” continues January 5-21, 2017 at The Logos Theatre, 80 School St. in Taylors. For tickets, call Call (864)268-9342 or visit http://www.theacademyofarts.org/logos.html. Many performances are already sold-out so make haste!

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