Search This Blog

Monday, April 23, 2018

According to Alice

From the Theater Vault Dept.: As the father of a theater major, I’m no longer easily persuaded to avail myself of child-centered entertainment. But this production of “Alice in Wonderland,” I was told by a very reliable friend, was exceptional. It was.


THANKS TO ITS ROBUST WORDPLAY and surrealist approach to the fears of childhood, this is a story that resists the transition from book to other media. Which only seems to encourage those adaptations. “Alice in Wonderland” is one of nearly a dozen children’s shows devised by the Prince Street Players beginning in the late 1960s, with book and lyrics by Jim Eiler, who co-wrote the music with Jeanne Bargy.

Charlie Barnett IV and Taylor Fuld
It’s the current offering of the Theatre Institute at Sage, and gets a superb production from an all-student cast who take over the stage with the aplomb of Broadway veterans. You won’t mistake it for a performance by polished pros, but this is as good as community theater gets, which is very good indeed.

The adaptation captures the best-remembered moments from “Alice in Wonderland” and even incorporates a bit of “Through the Looking Glass” in a music hall sequence that’s very entertaining even as it stops the momentum of the rest of the story.

Carrying the title role is vivacious Taylor Fuld, who captures the sense of innocence and frequent indignation that makes the book so charming. She’s got a lot of singing to do, and does it well, even carrying off the too-obvious ballad “Who Am I?” with pleasant conviction.

It’s an ensemble piece, with nine of the eleven cast members playing multiple roles (only Fuld and Charlie Barnett IV, who plays the White Rabbit, do not) and forming a high-kicking chorus when needed. Which is often.

Choreographer Michael Whitney honors the golden-era-of-musicals feel of the piece with dance routines that give the young cast a polished look without requiring years of training, and with more than one kick line because ... well, probably just because.

Lucas Phayre-Gonzales is tall and wiry and sports a patrician’s facial hair, an excellent look for his initial appearance, as the easily agitated French Mouse – but he brings a controlled energy to the Mad Hatter and Mock Turtle, among other roles, and shines in each.

While the Queen of Hearts’s familiar “Off with her head!” may not be up there with “To be or not be” in the theatrical pantheon, it still needs to be delivered without self-consciousness of its heritage. This Taylor Hoffman nicely accomplishes, and then turns around to give us the laconic caterpillar. Similarly, KD McTeigue offers deft sketches of the Duchess and the Carpenter, lacing the portrayals with appropriate humor.

Animate projections provide fittingly cartoonish touches to many of the scenes, with accents ranging from the subtle – sharks’ fins discreetly moving through a body of water – to the grotesque, as when three cartoon doors with blinking eyes speak with human mouths and voices. The set, by William Spencer Musser, is just as lively as the cast, with high staircases that revolve and meet and a series of hillocks and chambers below.

And the costumes, by the always-inventive Lynne Roblin, provide a fundamental look for each of the actors that is then built upon to give the needed variety for the outlandish procession of caricature characters.

Michael Musial directed the production; Barbara Musial was musical director and they each occupied a keyboard, with Joe Barna at the drums, for what’s almost non-stop music during the hour-long show.

This part of the Theatre Institute’s long-standing mission to offer live theater to schoolkids, an enthusiastic cadre of which was in the house when I attended. But the house should be full of them, and any school not sending a student group to see something like this will only be turning out dullards who’ll grow up to spoil more election days.

The Alt, 13 December 2016

No comments: