Venture into Narnia at Leeds this weekend

Three different casts with the Innovations Arts Academy will take turns performing “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” at Leeds Center for the Arts this weekend.

The play premiered Thursday but continues tonight and this weekend. Tonight’s show begins at 7 p.m., and there will be shows at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Mary Joy Nelson, Innovations Arts Academy executive director, said there are about 65 kids involved total. The three different casts are split up between age group and acting experience. Each cast gets two performances. A live orchestra will also perform.

“The students spend all semester training and singing, acting and dancing,” Nelson said. “They are going to put on a beautiful production this weekend at the Leeds theatre as a result of that training.”

The students have worked with professional vocal specialists, choreographers, directors, acting coaches and more since January.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is a dramatization of C.S. Lewis’ classic, set in the land of Narnia, according to the production’s website. It follows Aslan’s struggle with the White Witch and four children’s journey from an old wardrobe into Narnia.

“It’s a magical story,” Nelson said. “…Those students have embraced it full-heartedly…They’re just very creative, imaginative kids. This is a wonderful way for them to express the gifts that they have and do it through storytelling.”

The action drama also features chases, duels and escapes as the witch is determined to keep Narnia in her possession and to end Aslan’s reign, according to the production’s website.

“It’s been a challenging piece of theatre because it is deep and symbolic,” Nelson said. “It has a lot of character development. There’s a lot of acting work, more acting work then we’ve done in the past, and the kids have embraced that challenge and the challenge of learning lots of lines and lots of beautiful lyrical dance.”

Nelson said she loves how this story focuses on the children and their triumphs and tribulations.

Local composers Brayden Bergman and Marcus Thomas provided the musical score, while choreographers Sloan Theaker and Alexa Brandon led the dance numbers. Drew Davidson and Eric Henninger directed the productions with Marcus Thomas and Mary Joy Nelson as music directors.

“It’s all original music which has been really neat,” Nelson said.

Innovation Arts Academy is a two-year-old nonprofit dedicated to teaching students the arts, and is housed in Lexington, Nelson said. T

he group has put on various musicals such as “Annie,” “Sound of Music,” “James and the Giant Peach” and more.

Nelson said these performances will be the first at Leeds.

“It has been a wonderful experience,” she said. “The venue is amazing…It was just a great space, and it’s beautiful, and we want to share this story with the community of Winchester.”

Tickets can be purchased online or at the door for $12 for children age 12 and younger or $15 for adults.

Proceeds fund production costs and other programs with the Academy.

Nelson said she hopes the Winchester community comes out to see a performance.

“The children play these characters beautifully, and the story is absolutely magical,” she said. “It’s a wonderful family show, and I think there’ll be something for everyone. There’s dancing. There’s music. There are wonderful characters and getting to watch all of the different relationships form and conflicts and battle. There’s a big battle scene in the middle and it and it’s just a beautiful production that I think will surprise and delight.”