Creative Cauldron’s Learning Theater production of Alice in Wonderland provides an imaginative synthesis of Lewis Carroll’s dialogue and original contemporary musical numbers by Matt Conner. This whimsical production is driven by the energy of a cast of 39 youthful performers, creating a dream world of which Lewis Carroll would be proud.
The score boasts original music by Matt Conner with additional lyrics by Stephen Gregory Smith and orchestrations by Gabriel Magiante. “Wonderland” at the top of the show takes Alice and the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole, falling through a series of smaller and smaller picture frames held by members of the ensemble. It is a magical number that truly sets the stage for the adventures in Wonderland.
Other stand out numbers include “The Caucus Race,” winningly sung by the Dodo (Hazel Feldstein) and assorted outlandishly costumed fowl and fish; “The Most Beautiful Perfect Garden” performed with serious mean girl sass by Lena Csaszi, Maya Wrona, Madison Corney, Morgan Beltson, Erika Nielsen, Libby Brooke, April Beun, Ava Feldstein, and the flower chorus; and Speak Roughly to Your Little Boy delivered with feisty harmonies by the outlandish Duchess (Samaria Dellorso), a scene stealing pepper loving Cook (Charlotte Chewning), and a befuddled Alice (Grace Rollins).
Perhaps the funniest number in the score, however, was a reworking of Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter. As Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, Alex Weinstein and Benjamin Hacker worked all three sides of the stage with confident aplomb as they sang and danced their hearts out with engaging comic timing for such young actors.
Margie Jervis pulled off double magic as scenic designer and costume designer. Costuming 39 young actors, many of whom appeared in myriad roles, is a Herculean challenge. Jervis truly created magic in recreating familiar images of Alice, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Card Gardeners, and the Queen of Hearts from the original iconic John Tenniel illustrations, as well as adding creative touches of her own to many new creatures. The Caterpillar (Natalie Ingalls) stood out in a florescent costume with a long hooped body and a top hat and the umbrella mushrooms in the Caterpillar’s garden were truly inspired. Jervis’ designs also enhanced the scene stealing antics of the hedgehog croquet balls (April Buen, Libby Brooke, Ava Feldstein) and their card wickets (Aarti Sabarhwal, Madeleine Aykens, Kristen Hornbuckle). Unfortunately, Jervis’s clever costuming of the mysterious Cheshire Cat (Emma Rollins) was somewhat underutilized as the blocking for the Cheshire Cat made it difficult to full appreciate the magic of what Jervis and Rollins achieved in creating this important character.
Jervis’ set design was fluid and allowed the imagination to leap from one Wonderland setting to the next, aided in part by shadow puppetry and some very clever set pieces such as the Mad Hatter’s tea table and the Queen of Heart’s garden. John Sami’s light and sound design also added to the Wonderland effect.
One small critique is that in a thrust stage environment, too much of the action was directed only to audience members sitting in the center section. The wonderfully creative and engaging reactions of the young cast were often lost to audience members sitting on the sides. Also, some of the transitions between scenes were abrupt, requiring the audience to have a strong understanding of Carroll’s works to be able to fill in the gaps. A few extra lines of dialogue might have helped bridge those transitions.
Director Laura Connors Hull makes the most of her youthful talent, showcasing their strengths to their best advantage. As Alice, 12 year old Grace Rollins is a standout, delivering Alice’s dialogue with clear diction and enthusiasm. The two adult actors in this production, Denise Perrino as the raging Queen of Hearts and Gus Knapp as the loveably goofy King of Hearts, also delivered solid performances.
Creative Cauldron’s Alice in Wonderland strikes the right notes of wit and whimsy, bringing the classic story into the imaginations of a twenty-first century audience.
Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, without an intermission.
Alice in Wonderland plays through April 6, 2014 at Creative Cauldron performing at the ArtsSpace Falls Church – 410 S. Maple Road, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 436-9948, or purchase them online.