09LionWho doesn’t enjoy a story where children are heroes, good triumphs over evil and animals talk? The Gilbert Theater delivers all that and more with its production of “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” playing through April 21.

The show is based on C.S. Lewis’ classic tale from “The Chronicles of Narnia.” This story is the second in the series but the first that was published. It introduces us to the four Pevensie children: Peter (Adam White), Susan (Helen Steffan), Lucy (Mia Buracchio) and Edmund (Joshua Brunson).

When young Lucy explores an old wardrobe, she finds a magical entrance, marked by a lamp post, to the land of Narnia. In Narnia, the White Witch (Nicki Hart) rules with fear and makes it “always winter and never Christmas.” Declaring herself Queen of the Realm, the White Witch turns anyone who betrays her to stone.

The good inhabitants of Narnia, including talking beavers and a faun, unicorn and centaur, live in fear and wait for the return of the lion Aslan, the true king of Narnia, who can make things right.

When “daughters of Eve and sons of Adam” (humans) arrive in Narnia, the White Witch tries to capture the children to prevent them from fulfilling a prophecy that they will sit in the four thrones in the castle of Cair Paravel and end her reign. In the process, the White Witch tricks young Edmund into helping her.

When Aslan (Ja’Maul Johnson) arrives, he leads the children and Narnia animals in a fight against the White Queen. There are chases, sword fights and battles — all carried out on the Gilbert stage by a cast of all ages. 

Director Brian Adam Kline brings together this exciting story with an exceptional cast, demonstrating that for Fayetteville talent, there is no age limit. The collective cast is to be commended for bringing the fantasy to life.

Hart, as the White Witch, steals every scene she is in. She is wicked and marvelous at the same time. Hart brings to her portrayal a steady fierceness — whether acting opposite Johnson’s Aslan or Brunson’s Edmund. Nine-year-old Brunson gets kudos, for sure.

Also impressive are Buracchio, Steffan and White as Lucy, Susan and Peter. The trio collectively have quite a bit of stage experience, and it shows, despite their ages that barely reach double digits.

Also noteworthy is Cheleen Sugar’s performance as Fenris Ulf, a talking wolf and chief of the White Witch’s secret police. Sugar brings a slick and stylish quality to her portrayal — what I imagine it would be like if Lewis had written a rock star into Narnia.

Other highlights of the show include Quentin King and Jane Moran as Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and Brandon Bryan as Mr. Tumnus, the faun.

The story hardly slows down from beginning to end. Battles are fought, sacrifices are made, and kings and queens are crowned. Forgiveness and courage are highlighted in this family-friendly show. Audiences of all ages will enjoy the production.

“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” runs through April 21 at Gilbert Theater. Call 910-678- 7186 or visit www.gilberttheater.com for tickets and information.

Photo: Nicki Hart, as the White Witch, steals every scene she is in.

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