Lost in Wonderland is a workshop production of a new musical based upon Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. As fostered by Pallas Theatre Collective, this promising new musical provides a fresh approach to the oft-mined source material that both pleases and provokes the audience.
Told from the perspective of author Lewis Carroll (Benjamin Stoll), at the start Carroll has just finished creating his novel for nine-year-old Young Alice (played by engaging 13 year-old Lille Jewell whose smile and singing voice are equally sweet). The two celebrate the fact that “Life is But a Dream.” Much to Carroll’s surprise, Young Alice doesn’t like the story, “not one bit,” the first of many intriguing twists on the familiar tale.
Soon Carroll himself is sucked into the land of his own creation (“Dancing to Wonderland”) sung with several characters) only to find it less wonderful than he imagined. The world he created has changed in ways that don’t make sense to Carroll.
The most baffling change is that Alice has now matured into a teenage woman (Caroline Brent) who has different interests and needs. This mismatch between author and subjects turns into “Who Are You” by Carroll, Alice, and a caterpillar played by a recurring chorus (Jasmine LaChaé Mays, Ashley K. Nicholas, Sidney Davis, who also play Cards in the story and who have a nice vocal blend)
The story becomes more entertaining and the musical numbers more appealing as Carroll confronts many of the characters he created. A seductive Cheshire Cat (Zach Brewster-Geisz) describes the “Feline Way of Life.” In “Mad Tea Party” Carroll confronts a charming quarter consisting of the Mad Hatter (a charismatic Will Hawkins), the March Hare (the operatic Erin Granfield), the White Rabbit (a frenetic and charming Megan Bunn), and Alice.
Many of Carroll’s characters are not happy with their circumstances, least of all Alice. She longs for her Prince (Christopher Michael Richardson), who makes the most of his amusing number “I Am a Prince.”
The characters start lobbying Carroll to make changes in the story and he is torn between wanting to preserve his story and pleasing others. Among the most demanding is, of course, the Queen of Hearts. Christine Callsen gives her such a domineering presence that you begin to wonder if her frequent request and musical number “Off With Your Head” will be honored on stage.
Lost in Wonderland
closes June 19, 2016
Details and tickets
While Lewis Carroll’s famous work has often been dramatized, it has mostly found success in other media. It’s hard for any theatrical production to match the production values of movies and television, even with a Broadway sized budget, and those effects can overwhelm the story. For example, a 2011 attempted musical titled Wonderland: A New Alice closed on Broadway after only a month.
This new work takes a clever approach in focusing more on the author and the creative process. Leaving the traditional children’s story, it explores the author’s creative process and personal challenges.
There is much to enjoy about this new work. In addition to the interesting perspective and frequent twists, the play often features entertaining wordplay consistent with the source material.
The pleasing music of Lost in Wonderland keeps the production interesting by utilizing a variety of styles, and most of the numbers involve effective interplay between the characters. The lyrics are mostly entertaining with a few songs that aspire to deeper meaning. The later number “Wonders Unfold” about the author’s challenges is particularly beautiful and evocative .
The casting is excellent with a talented ensemble that includes fine singers. The intimate staging of the workshop production (13 actors perform in the round for roughly 25 front row seats with choreography by Christopher Martin) is enjoyable. The mostly monochromatic costume scheme with a few muted colors works for this more adult story, and the simple flourishes for creature costumes are effective.
The book could still use some refinement. The opening set-up of Carroll’s personal challenges is a little muddled despite dialogue between Carroll and his butler (Darren Marquardt, who also amusingly portrays Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum in the story). For a long stretch Carroll’s confusion and consternation are too static despite the best efforts of Benjamin Stoll.
Ultimately, the story does come to a satisfying conclusion. Lost in Wonderland achieves the rare combination of being both entertaining and thought provoking. The Pallas Theatre Collective has made a good choice in supporting Lost in Wonderland and it will be interesting the follow its future development.
Lost in Wonderland by Librettist Ingrid De Sanctis and Composer/Lyricist Andrew Morrissey with additional texts by A. M. C. Clapp and Lewis Carroll. Directed by Tracey Elaine Chessum. Assistant Director: Andrew Keller. Featuring Benjamin Stoll, Lillie Jewell, Caroline Brent, Christine Callsen, Darren Marquardt, Will Hawkins, Erin Granfield, Megan Bunn, Zach Brewster-Geisz, Jasmine LaChaé Mays, Ashley K. Nicholas, Sidney Davis, & Christopher Michael Richardson. Choreography by Christopher Martin. Music Direction/Piano: Amy Conley. Costume Design: Brian J. Shaw. Assistant Costume Designer: Kat Arrasmith. Sound Design: Tracey Elaine Chessum. Dialect Coach: Zach Brewster-Geisz. Presented by Pallas Theatre Collective. Reviewed by Steven McKnight.
[Note: We don’t normally review and rate workshop productions, but have done so here at the invitation of Pallas Theatre Collective]