BY ALISE CHAFFINS
For West Virginia Public Theatre, 2023 goes out like a lion — an 8-foot-tall, quadrupedal puppet lion that’s.
WVPT closes out its 2023 season with a efficiency of the musical “Narnia,” based mostly on the beloved kids’s e book, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C.S. Lewis.
The story has been abridged to make it extra accessible to a younger viewers, however the true draw is the spectacular puppet used for the character Aslan, a magical lion who brings spring again to Narnia.
Costume designer Mary McClung took it upon herself to design the Aslan puppet earlier this yr. Slightly than designing a bipedal costume, she wished a prop that regarded like an actual lion. That is the primary time one thing like this has been achieved right here.
“Now we have achieved physique puppets, the place actors are strolling with their very own ft,” McClung stated. “We’ve achieved numerous hand puppets and issues which might be extra expressive with massive faces, however by no means something that’s an animal, an precise quadruped.”
After she completed sketching her designs, McClung despatched them to Kylie Clark, an artist who makes a speciality of puppet fabrication. She took the design and created the three-person lion puppet that can be featured on this manufacturing.
Every of the puppeteers working Aslan have a particular job. Talon Shultz is within the again, working the legs and the tail. Charlie Meeks bodily inhabits the physique of the costume, working the entrance ft — hunched over to permit Aslan to appear to be an actual animal. Cody Taylor operates the top and is the actor delivering the traces and singing.
Along with being a implausible piece of mechanical artwork, the puppet has a full, glowing mane, a totally working head, shimmering fur and heat, glittering eyes. It’s practically 8 ft tall when it rears up on its again legs.
Jerry McGonigle, creative director for WVPT, stated regardless of there being three individuals working the puppet, he barely seen them throughout the efficiency as a result of they’re so fluid of their motions and lip syncing. McGonigle believes this puppet will seize the eye and creativeness of the younger individuals within the viewers.
Along with night performances this weekend and subsequent, WVPT will bringing in practically 5,000 college students to expertise “Narnia” throughout the faculty matinees. McGonigle is happy for thus many kids to have the ability to expertise the sort of dwell efficiency.
“This story is absolutely interesting to younger individuals,” McGonigle stated. “They’re the viewers of the long run. You get them now and also you’ve bought them. That’s why it’s so vital to me that we’re in a position to provide this.”
He laughed and added, “It’s simply actually cool.”