Our theater editor reviews a new Off-Broadway musical version of 'Alice in Wonderland' presented by the Literally Alive Children's Theatre group at the Players Theatre in NYC. Join her on a magical, musical underground adventure for theatergoers young and old, down a most awesome rabbit hole in the heart of Greenwich Village.
It was the soggiest of Saturday mornings—a far cry from the "golden afternoon" setting of the original "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" that spilled from Lewis Carroll’s imagination during an Oxford, England rowboat outing and picnic arranged for the author's young muse, Alice Liddell, and her sisters nearly 150 years ago on July 4, 1862.
Still, there I was, sloshing through 21st-century Greenwich Village puddles worrying if the turnout for Literally Alive Children's Theatre's much-touted musical version of "Alice in Wonderland" would suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous weather. What was I thinking?
Standing in the lobby of the Players Theatre, one of the city’s legendary theatrical venues, I witnessed first-hand the seemingly nonstop parade of kids, parents, and grandparents who shed their dripping raingear to enter the intimate red-walled theater. As Carroll put it in "Through the Looking-Glass," his follow-up to Wonderland: "And thick and fast they came at last/and more, and more/and more…" Clearly I underestimated the excited gaggle of Wonderland fans ready, willing, and psyched to hop down the nearest rabbit hole with Alice and cavort with the White Rabbit, DoDo Bird, Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, March Hare, King and Queen of Hearts, and assorted others.
Pre-Show Discussion, Percussion, and Hands-On Arts and Crafts
An hour before the show officially began, producing artistic director/playwright Brenda Bell, composer/musical director Michael Sgouros, and cast member Eric Fletcher (who plays both Lewis Carroll in the opening sequence and The Queen of Hearts later on), assembled at the front of the theater to offer insight into not only Carroll's classic tale, but to the nuts and bolts of putting together a show. Granted, the material they shared wasn’t all that interesting to the infants in the crowd (no age limits here!), but the rest of the theatergoers were fairly spellbound as Brenda and Eric discussed the characters, costumes, choreography, scenery, and lighting, while Sgouros demonstrated the cool aspects of his brilliant percussion score.
The pre-show extravaganza peaked interactively when workshop coordinator Abby Greenwaid announced it was time for artistically motivated kids to take the stage where markers, glue, glitter, and ribbons were neatly arranged awaiting the blissful, inevitable chaos that comes when dozens of youngsters dive into the craft du jour: decorating souvenir Mad Hatter hats,
In a theatrical universe where productions of "Alice in Wonderland," "Through the Looking-Glass," and combinations of the two pop up almost as frequently as un-birthdays (364 per year), it’s beyond important for a playwright to think outside the teapot. For Brenda Bell, this meant not only spinning the familiar story of a little girl in an upside-down world of bizarre characters, but coming up with tons of creative solutions for myriad technical challenges. Overall, she and her talented cast and collaborators succeed in spades—as well as clubs, diamonds, and naturally, hearts!
Without trying to include every character in the book (the show only runs 60 minutes) this clever but not over-the-top rendition manages to juxtapose Victorian England's structured sensibilities with a smart and imaginative dream-child's compulsion to explore one big, fat, crazy cosmos.
And so the play begins against a black-white-grey Victorian backdrop where a handful of children annoy grownups and Lewis Carroll himself makes a cameo appearance. Soon Alice (a delightful Brianna Hurley), spotting a flummoxed rabbit, follows him down a rabbit hole and things get very colorful, indeed. Without going into minute detail—we're all familiar with the basic storyline, after all—Alice must deal with going from tall to small and back again while matching wits, and sharing musical numbers, with such costars as the Mouse and DoDo ("Caucus Race"); Caterpillar ("Changing"); Hatter, March Hare, and Dormouse ("We Are Mad"); and the Mock Turtle and Gryphon ("Stupid Song").
Major kid-pleasers include Mr. Fletcher's droll Queen of Hearts leading the company in the showstopper "The Queen’s Rule," the Dali-esque "Tick Tock" performed by the White Rabbit (Jonathan Bethea), and director/designer Christian Amato's super-neat projections on a large screen that dominates the upstage area.
"I chose to use projections in combination with a tongue-in-cheek performance style to make sure the whimsy of the piece was fully explored," Amato says. Bell reveals the motivation behind her portrayal of Alice: She saw the character "as a child steadily becoming a young lady, searching to see who she was and how she fit into the world between childhood and adulthood."
As Bell's heroine sings in her first number, "If I'm Not Me":
Tum-bel-ing down a hole
Stops you right in your tracks
You have to move ahead
Cause there is no turning back.
What: "Alice in Wonderland"
Where: The Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal St. (between 3rd and Bleecker Streets in Greenwich Village)
When: Saturdays, 11am and 3pm; Sundays, 11am (through May 20)
Who: Appropriate for all ages; no age restrictions, but recommended for kids 3 and older
Tickets: $40 for first three rows; $35 for second three rows; $25 for all other seats
Special Discount: All NYMetroParent readers can receive $10 off per ticket by referencing code BAP when buying tickets online (at aliceinthevillage.com), by phone (at 212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111), or in person at the box office (open at 11am Sunday-Friday and 10am on Saturdays).
Pre-Show Interative Family Workshop: Takes place one hour prior to every performance. Free to ticket holders, it includes an informational chat, Q&A, and supervised art project.
Group Sales and Birthday Party Packages: Email Brenda Bell ([email protected]) or call 212-475-1449
'Alice in Wonderland' Study Guide: A fun hand-out of Carrollian trivia, puzzles, and games originally designed for class trips, but so swell it's now available (free for the asking) at the box office
Bells and Whistles, Drums, and Vibraphones
You don't have to be a student of music to get caught up in the percussion playhouse in which Michael Sgouros and his two co-musicians, Briton Mathews and Sean Statser, frolic Wonderland-style with more than 30 different instruments. Here are a just a few facts that make the rhythms of this "Alice in Wonderland" so irresistible.
1. Percussion is anything you can shake, scrape, or strike.
2. Percussion instruments fall into two categories: tuned and non-tuned. In Alice in Wonderland, the tuned instruments include marimbas, orchestra bells, and vibraphones; while the non-tuned are cymbals (including finger cymbals), keys, maraca, ocean drum, ratchet, slide whistle, tambourines, tympani, Udu drum, vibratone, and wood blocks.
3. "Theme" instruments have been assigned to various characters. The wood block, for example, designates the ticking of the White Rabbit's watch; the slide whistle is in synch with Alice's growing and shrinking; and the gourd-like Udu drum and finger cymbals bring a Middle Eastern feel to the Caterpillar's song "Changing."