Eclectic and electric, Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure is a wild and wondrous ride through Lewis Carroll’s world of imagination but this time with a heavy beat, some killer rock guitars and enough imagination to spare some for Willy Wonka.
This is not a run-of-the-mill adaptation of the classic children’s tale. This is a kick-ass version which rocks out with a memorable score and witty lyrics by Michael Mahler and Rachel Rockwell. The tunes will bring back memories of rock and pop legends for many of the grown-ups, while delighting the youngsters in the crowd. And the story is a powerful and poignant distillation of a young girl’s odyssey among the madcap citizens of Wonderland.
And, oh, what a girl! One of the DC area’s most engaging performers takes on the title role with pep, pluck, and pizzazz. Erin Weaver, equally at home in comedy, drama, classics and musicals, is a perfect Alice who is “seven and a half exactly!” Capturing the wide-eyed glee, insatiable curiosity and open heart of a child, Weaver uses her comic timing, crystal clear voice, and honest performance to show Alice’s transformative journey through Wonderland. In the lovely song “Feeling Small,” Weaver’s Alice reveals the little girl’s deepest desire, to see which way to go and feel like she has control of something in a world of big people and big problems.
Alice’s problem at hand is to maneuver through the fantastic and frenetic Wonderland, peopled with the characters that children of all ages know and love: the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, March Hare, Dormouse, Tweedle Dum, Tweedle Dee, and the Red Queen. Co-authors Mahler and Rockwell have shaken up Carroll’s Wonderland characters and tossed them with equal parts whimsy and danger, providing an entertaining edge that works beautifully.
Matthew Aldwin Mcgee channels the guitar-shredding legend Peter Frampton as the White Rabbit who leads Alice into her journey of discovery. McGee – like the rest of the multi-talented cast – balances vivid character work with excellent instrumental skills. Music director Deborah Jacobson’s leadership also keeps the cast singing with tight harmonies, while keeping the rock and roll edge intact.
The Rabbit enticing Alice into exploring Wonderland also leads the cast into displaying the first bit of theatrical magic provided by the stunning movement and dance moments created by Synetic Theater company member Robert Bowen Smith. Alice’s fall into the rabbit hole feeds the imagination and opens up the stage to a wide array of moments that capture the attention of young and old. Everything from mock fighting, Irish dancing, and good old fashioned stomping around are mingled with stylized movement from scene to scene. Matthew Pauli’s imaginative puppet designs raise the imaginative level considerably – look for the pudgy dormouse and the diabolical Jabberwocky.
Other than the puppets, Alice also meets the zen-like Caterpillar of Aaron Bliden, who serves as a swami, warbling a transcendental and Beatles-like warning to “Keep Your Temper.” Hasani Allen is the wise and philosophical Cheshire Cat, whose mini-keyboard doubles as his famous grin.
When Alice gets to the maddest tea party in the land, she of course meets the dormouse, March Hare and the Mad Hatter and gets a raft of bad advice on how to impress the Red Queen. Matthew Schleigh makes his mark as the impish hare, complete with a thick Scottish brogue, while Matthew Alan Ward has a field day as the Mad Hatter. Daven Ralston brings the Dormouse puppet to life memorably as well. The trio confuses and amuses young Alice with their production number “It’s a Mad World,” kitschy and infectious, reminding me of the best of the B-52’s.
Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure
Closes August 13, 2017
Details and Tickets
Along the way to play a dangerous game of croquet with the Red Queen, Alice also meets the vain mean-girl roses Bianca (Ralston) and Felicite (Tess Higgins) in a throwback to the bubblegum pop girl groups of the sixties. Alice begins to stand up for herself as she confronts the painted pair of roses, just in time to face the infamous Red Queen, played with delicious diva-inity by Matthew Schleigh. Sporting killer boots, a crimson frock with hairdo to match, Schleigh slays as the Red Queen, with a killer rock-tenor voice and a performance that gives a nod to David Bowie, Grace Slick, Bette Midler, Cher and maybe even a dash of Tim Curry’s Frank ‘N Furter. “I’m the Red Queen, told you twice. Being mean’s my favorite vice,” Schleigh’s queen offers in one of the musical highlights from the show.
Even as Alice faces the Red Queen and exposes her cheating ways, her biggest foe, the Jabberwock offers the greatest challenge and one that leads to a fitting and fabulous finale. Smaller children might avert their eyes during the fight with the Jabberwock but they need only worry for a few moments, once Alice takes up the challenge and takes home the valuable lessons from her adventures. Taking care of herself, finding her own courage, and embracing the wonders of imagination are all part of her take-aways from her time in Wonderland – all delivered with high style.
Director Kathryn Chase Bryer needless to say, cast the show impeccably and surrounded herself with superb collaborators, such as Deborah Jacobson, Robert Bowen Smith and Matthew Pauli, mentioned already. In addition, Ivania Stack has provided classic “Alice in Wonderland” costumes with a rock and roll edge that fits this revised world perfectly, flashy and fun for all. And do not discount the power of great wigs and hairpieces to serve as icing on an elaborate spread of cakes – especially the Red Queen and her roses! Scenic designer Misha Jacobson uses the three-quarter thrust of the Lerner Theater to great advantage, provides a selection of doors and other stylized furniture that can mold and move with the fluidity of Smith’s dazzling movement. Zachary Gilbert’s expertly executed lighting design extends the stage to the aisles of the theater, helping create a greater intimacy to the production.
By the end of Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure, Alice exclaims, “This must be what courageous feels like.” That is certainly true not only with an completely precocious seven and a half year old but with a group of theatre artists who bring their best work to the stage to retell a classic children’s tale. You won’t want to miss this production that does, as the show says, makes the “impossible possible.”
Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure . Book and lyrics by Rachel Rockwell . Music and lyrics by Michael Mahler . Based on the classic by Lewis Carroll . Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer . Featuring: Hasani Allen, Aaron Bliden, Theresa Higgins, Matthew Aldwin McGee, Daven Ralston, Matthew Schleigh, Matthew Alan Ward, and Erin Weaver . Music director: Deborah Jacobson . Choreographer: Robert Bowen Smith . Scenic designer: Misha Kachman . Costume designer: Ivania Stack . Lighting designer: Zachary Gilbert . Sound designer: Christopher Baine Puppet designer: Matthew Pauli . Stage manager: Madison Bahr . Produced by Imagination Stage . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.