It's the deepest, darkest, coldest part of winter, and it's been that way in Narnia for a full hundred years.

Always winter. Never Christmas.

But in the depths of the forest, there's a light from a solitary lamppost. And a sound in the distance that could be ... sleigh bells? 

Audiences are invited to experience the holiday magic of author C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" at Albany Civic Theater.

The classic tale of good versus evil features four children who find a doorway through a wardrobe into an enchanted world and meet a variety of talking creatures who have long awaited their help.

Tim Kelley and Rebecca Douglas co-direct a cast of about 35 people ranging in age from 10 to 50. The cast includes Joshua Winter as Aslan the Lion, Kayla Lesser as the White Witch, and Joseph Wolfe, Maddie Price and Logan Rud as the Pevensie children Peter, Susan and Edmund. Elliette Barlow and Marie Guthrie share the role of Lucy, the youngest of the Pevensies.

"It was Tim's idea. I was like, I love that show! I want to direct it with you," Douglas said. "Now we're on this happy, crazy journey together."

Both directors said they're drawn to the idea of a story filled with hope. Set during World War II, "Lion" features characters clearly aligned with either light or darkness, and — spoiler alert — light triumphs.

"I think this one just sends an underlying message that as long as you've got good people and you have love, that anything's possible," Kelley said.

Costumer Erica Smith worked with a prosthetic company based in Canada to design "a lovely blend of animal details with a 1940s aesthetic," Douglas said. 

Much of the rest of the onstage enchantment will come from a new feature at the theater: a 14-foot-high, 20-foot-wide screen for high-definition digital projection of sets and special effects. 

It's the first time such a screen will have been used at ACT. Kelley used a similar screen when he directed "The Little Mermaid" a year ago at the Majestic in Corvallis and lobbied hard for the addition to Albany's offerings.

Kelley initially spearheaded a committee to research the screen possibility, which Dean Keeling took over when Kelley's directing schedule heated up. It was with the combined efforts of Kelley, Keeling, Josh Mitchell and Ken Long that the projector was successfully approved by the membership and installed.

"Basically, we can have as many sets as we want," he said. "Magic you've never seen before, being able to come up on the screen."

One special effects challenge that couldn't be solved with a screen was finding the right wardrobe, Kelley said.

The show needed a piece that would be both big and sturdy enough for the children to pass through — many antique wardrobes are fragile, Kelley said — but also wouldn't cost the show more than it could afford.

"We ended up finding somebody who had one in their garage from that time period who was willing to sell it to us for a very, very discounted rate," he said.

Something that could have been a challenge but wasn't: co-directing, Douglas said. She and Kelley have surprised each other more than once by having simultaneous identical ideas.

"It's really nice to collaborate this way," Douglas said.

They also share a vision for the effect they want the story to have on the audience, Kelley said: "A sense of wonder and excitement that anything's possible."

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