Who can resist the stories about children who slip mysteriously through a door into another world, a magical place where trees talk and animals seem more like people?
Writer C.S. Lewis knew how appealing those stories are to children. After all, he grew up at the turn of the century in Northern Ireland in a big, rambling old house with odd passageways and attics.
It's just such a house that he wrote about in his classic, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the first in a series of seven children's books he penned about the mythical land of Narnia.
The book is the basis for the musical "Narnia," which opens March 1 in a production by the Young Artists Ensemble at the Waverly Adult Center, 1025 Old Farm Road, Thousand Oaks.
The ensemble, which puts on three productions a year, plus a summer musical for teens, is a cooperative effort by the Conejo Recreation and Park District, the Arts Council of Conejo Valley and the Conejo Valley Unified School District.
The theater group has been around for 12 years, attracting local children 10 to 18 years old who audition for each show. It's no simple feat to get a part.
"Ninety to 100 children audition for each show," said Mark Reyes, a recreation district leader and veteran theater performer. "For 'Narnia,' 99 auditioned, and we picked 30 kids. It's a very hard process to go through."
"Narnia" is the story of four children who are whisked off to live with an uncle in the country because of air raids that threatened London in 1940. The uncle's house is a treasure for the children who like to explore its nooks and crannies.
Most intriguing to Lucy, is a wardrobe in an upstairs room. She opens it and finds a rack of fur coats, but when she pushes the coats back she finds herself in Narnia, a strange snowy land where it is always winter.
Lucy brings the other children, Edmund, Susan and Peter, through the wardrobe into Narnia and sets them on an adventure. They meet dwarfs, nymphs and other mythical characters, such as Mr. Tumnus, who has the torso of a man but the horns and legs of a goat.
The cruel White Witch, the Queen of Narnia, keeps the land in the grip of winter, never allowing a Christmas celebration. The children meet Aslan, a noble lion, and help him free Narnia from the spell of the evil witch.
The production features Jill Taylor, 14, as the White Witch, and Chad Reisser, 14, as Aslan. The four children are played by Christian Isely, 12, in the role of Edmund, Kristi McClave, 11, as Lucy, Brianna Haynes, 11, as Susan, and Nicholas Doerr, 12, as Peter.
Megan Bourgeois has the lead dancing role, that of the white stag.
Sandy Gaskell, 21, is directing the production, her first such effort. But she has appeared in local community theaters and has taught an acting class for children.
Reyes said the ensemble's next production will be "The Wizard of Oz." Auditions will be March 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Drive, Thousand Oaks. For an audition appointment, call 499-4355.
Other events for children:
The O.K. Club at the Oaks Shopping Center in Thousand Oaks features a performance today by Jimmy D. and the cast of U.B. You. The show for preschoolers, which features songs, dancing and pantomime, begins at 10:30 a.m. On Feb. 28 the O.K. Club features the "Bumblebeez," who sing and highlight fun things for children to do.
* A workshop for children 7 and older who want to learn magic will be offered Monday from 7 to 8 p.m. at Camarillo Community Center, Carmen Drive and Burnley Street. Magician Harold Brosious is the instructor. Cost is $30. Call Oxnard College to register, 986-5822.
* Children 10 and up can learn sea kayaking in two classes offered March 2 and again on April 21 by the Ventura Department of Parks and Recreation. Both run 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The cost is $45. To sign up call 658-4726.
* WHERE AND WHEN
Performances for "Narnia" are March 1-16, 7:30 p.m. on Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Reserved seats are $5.50. Call 499-4355 to make a reservation.