Live theater returns to a gem of a venue at the Museum of the Bible

The play may be the thing, but often so is the place — which means for any avid theatergoer that whenever a new performance space opens, it’s worth checking out.

Back in December 2017, I reviewed a touring production of the musical Amazing Grace when it inaugurated the Museum of the Bible’s handsome new World Stage Theater, and I recall being as impressed by the venue as I was by the performance. “A gorgeous production of a glorious musical in a grand new DC theater,” I wrote. “What’s not to love?”

Among the theater-fan-friendly features of the space are its sleek interior, exceptional acoustics and sound system, congenial intimacy (just 476 seats), and stunning fifth-floor lobby view overlooking Southwest DC. But except for a shortened remount of Amazing Grace that played there in 2019, the World Stage Theater has seen no more actual live theater production. Until now.

Brinton Stratton as the boy Shasta astride his horse in ‘The Horse and His Boy.’ Press preview photo courtesy of the Museum of the Bible.

Opening Friday, January 20, is The Horse and His Boy, an original stage adaption of the C.S. Lewis classic allegory with music and life-size animal puppets. The production was created by The Logos Theatre, a performing arts ministry based in Taylors, South Carolina.

And “it won’t be a one-off,” said Garrett Hinton at a press preview for the show. “We want 12 months of constant art in this theater.”

Hinton, who comes from a background in tourism and theater, is the chief revenue officer of the  Museum of the Bible. With colleagues, he curates what goes on stage there. In addition to a calendar of art festivals, film festivals, concerts, and other events, he told me, “the desire for us would be a large play or musical at least twice a year.”

Left: 15-year-old Lilliana Groth as Aravis with her talking horse, Hwin; center: Aslan the lion, a Christ figure; right: 13-year-old Britton Stratton as Shasta with his talking horse, Bree, in ‘The Horse and His Boy.’ Press preview photo courtesy of the Museum of the Bible.

I asked Hinton how the partnership with Logos Theatre came about and he told me a charming story:

“I was introduced to Logos Theatre by a dear friend who lives in Greenville, South Carolina. She kept raving about all the things that this little theater in Taylors, South Carolina, was doing every year. She knew my task of needing to fill the theater with entertainment, and she was always trying to convince me to take a day trip down. Eventually, I decided it was time to go and see what all the fuss was about. So I flew down to Greenville.

“She picked me up at the airport, and we drove out to Taylors, where there’s an old red brick school building they’d converted. And as I walked inside I quickly realized that the outside facade of this place did not accurately represent what was happening on the inside. I felt like I stepped into a medieval village, where you have your costuming department and your makeup department and your wig department and your puppets and your video production team — and all of these things are just buzzing. As somebody who has been around theater for years and been in many productions at a high level, I knew what I was looking at was not your typical community theater. I knew I had stepped into something that was professional.”

The Logos Theatre performs in Taylors but also on tour. “Among the places they’ve traveled,” Hilton said, “they’re very well known; they leave a mark wherever they go. People remember the puppets, of course, but also the excellence, from script writing to songwriting.”

Garrett Hinton in the World Stage Theater at the Museum of the Bible. DCTA photo.

The World Stage Theater boasts some seriously sophisticated tech. “We’re one of the few theaters that have a Meyer Constellation sound system,” Hinton said. “If the system’s turned off, it’s quieter than a library; there’s no echo, no reverb. Then all of a sudden when our tech team turns the system on it can sound like Carnegie Hall or a massive cathedral.” The theater is also equipped for immersive projection on all the walls and ceiling in the house, “a system that can transport people into the scenery.”

The Horse and His Boy is a huge production, though. The cast numbers 45 (down from 75 in South Carolina). And among the challenges mounting the show at the World Stage Theater was the fact that the Logos Theatre in South Carolina has a turntable and the DC stage does not. So the Logos creative team has been devising workarounds, for instance for the epic’s chase scenes, which at the press preview I saw played out as an imaginatively realized illusion.

Scene from ‘The Horse and His Boy.’ Press preview photo courtesy of the Museum of the Bible.

Hinton can’t say what live theater will come next to the World Stage Theater. “We are in talks with a couple of touring productions right now. I can’t tell you who they are just yet.” Whatever it may be, he said, it will be “things that align with our brand.”

That brand is the faith-based museum in which the World Stage Theater is housed, and the exhibits there are vast, over 430,000 square feet. One could spend hours if not days there.

Lobby of the World Stage Theater. Press preview photo courtesy of the Museum of the Bible.

“If you’re buying a ticket to The Horse and His Boy, we’re giving folks a 25 percent discount to come and visit the museum,” Hinton said, “whether it’s that day or the day after — so people can not only enjoy the show but come see the museum as well.”

But a dyed-in-the-wool theater buff could come just for the show and they’d be welcome? I asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “100 percent.”

The Horse and His Boy plays through March 4, 2023, presented by the Logos Theatre, in association with the C.S. Lewis Company Limited, performing at the World Stage Theater on the fifth floor of the Museum of the Bible, 400 4th Street SW, Washington, DC. Tickets ($54–$84) are available for purchase online. (For a limited time, use code OPENING for a 15% discount.)

The Horse and His Boy will be offered in American Sign Language on January 25 and 26 and February 15 and 16.

SEE ALSO:
‘Amazing Grace’ at the Museum of the Bible (review by John Stoltenberg, December 2, 2017)
Inside ‘Amazing Grace’ at the Museum of the Bible: A Q&A with Performer Joshua Simon (interview by John Stoltenberg, December 20, 2017)
‘Amazing Grace’ at the Museum of the Bible (review by Gina Dalfonza, April 3, 2019)