Review: ‘Alice in Wonderland’ at Creative Cauldron

Full of high-spirited playfulness, flights of adorable fancy and some verbal gymnastics that children and adults can savor, Creative Cauldron’s Alice in Wonderland is family entertainment that will sweep one’s cares away into the joys of “curiouser and curiouser” travel. If you don’t believe me, go ask Alice, who is winningly portrayed by seventh-grade student Madeline Aldana with plenty of necessary quizzical verve.

Izzy Smelkinson as the White Rabbit and Madeline Aldana as Alice. Photo by Keith Waters Kx Photography.
Izzy Smelkinson as the White Rabbit and Madeline Aldana as Alice. Photo by Keith Waters Kx Photography.

Part of Creative Cauldron’s Learning Theatre program, the homegrown adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 work is a peachy one by Laura Connors Hull and Ellen Selby. The Hull/Selby duo get to the very heart of Alice’s adventures down a rabbit hole into an off-kilter world. The adaptation also provides a fine opportunity for young people to perform in an original adaptation of a well-known, still cool after all these years, children’s classic, written to support their own strengths and talents.

Key to the overall success of the Cauldron’s Alice in Wonderland is that the 24 energetic, on-their-marks, young performers in the show are not alone on stage or even backstage. Along with co-directors Hull and Selby, there are three professional actors performing with the 24-member cast. The professional actors serve as mentors throughout the rehearsals and performances. The professional actors also take on key roles. The three are a lively Izzy Smelkinson as the White Rabbit, a dictating, obnoxious Will Stevenson as the Queen of Hearts, and a soft-spoken, timid E. Augustus (Gus) Knapp as the King of Hearts.

Creative Cauldron also has several other major artistic elements that make the production a sheer pleasure. There are 13 original songs and musical numbers composed by Matt Conner, with lyrics by Stephen Gregory Smith. The music provides opportunities for plenty of solo, duo, trio and production numbers for the cast to show their dancing and movement skills; and they do. The music varies in tempo, style, and outlook befitting the characters. Conner and Smith also choreograph. There are few static scenes in the eleven scene show. Some of the production numbers are intricate especially given the intimate performance space. The performers make it all seem fun for themselves and the audience. John Sami created the nuanced lighting and fine projections for the production.

Then there is the utterly divine, imaginative costume design by Margie Jervis. She has taken the old and mixed with the contemporary, with all sorts of colorful charm. There are puppets big and small, there are children with hats and wigs and tails and wings. There are jovial bright umbrellas to twirl and even some window frames to “fall” through. It is a cornucopia of enchanted delights that the young performers wear and use with pride.

Through its fast-moving, intermission-free 90-minute running time, a bounty of Alice in Wonderland characters appear as many of the young actors take on several roles. The Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Door Mouse, Mushrooms and Flowers, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Mock Turtle, Hedgehogs, and various animals of land, sea, and air all make dandy appearances. (please see end note with cast names and characters). Co-Director Ellen Selby and Nora Hill, Assistant Stage Manager, assist with costume changes, as well as the children themselves. The young performers learn this skill through the training process of the Creative Cauldron Learning Theatre.

Clockwise from left: Marianne Meade as the Doormouse, Libby Brooke as the March Hare, Madeline Aldana as Alice, and Aashna Kapur as the Mad Hatter. Photo by Keith Waters Kx Photography.
Clockwise from left: Marianne Meade as the Doormouse, Libby Brooke as the March Hare, Madeline Aldana as Alice, and Aashna Kapur as the Mad Hatter. Photo by Keith Waters Kx Photography.

Creative Cauldron’s Alice in Wonderland is humorous and satirical entertainment for all ages. The young performers totally brightened my evening. But don’t take my word for it.  The many children in the audience were sitting forward, taking in the production, laughing, nudging each other, clapping and just plain enjoying themselves.  After the performance, there was about 10 minutes of questions and answers as children in the audience asked great “how” questions. All-in-all, just a grand evening at the theater.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Alice in Wonderland plays through April 14, 2019, 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.

Sophia Rader, Alice’s Sister/Flower Chorus/Card Wicket; Ben Graham, The Mouse/Fish Footman/Five of Hearts; Benji Burns, The Lory/Frog Footman/Knave of Hearts; Fifi Eppler, The Dodo/Tiger Lily/Card Wicket; Sophie Schmittel, Duck/Cheshire Cat/Daisy One/Hedgehog; Annabelle Tuss, Eaglet/Violet/Hedgehog; Lily Kales, Old Crab/Flower Chorus/Seven of Hearts; Emerson Thiebert, Young Crab/Cheshire Cat/Daisy One; Sofia Marcus, Old Magpie/Rose/Executioner; Carmen Ortiz, Mother Canary/Larkspur/Card Wicket; Gizem Onerci, Baby Canary/Daisy Four/Hedgehog; Owen Thiebert, Caterpillar/Two of Hearts; Aashna Kapur, Mad Hatter/Mushroom; Libby Brooke, Mushroom/March Hare; Marianne Meade, Mushroom/Doormouse; Miri Brooke, Mushroom/Flower Chorus/Tweedle Dee; Abby Fred, Mushroom/Flower Chorus/Tweedle Dum; Madeline Corley, Mushroom/Daisy Two; Caroline Davis, Mushroom/Daisy Three/Card Wicket; Corinne Levitt, Mushroom/Flower Chorus/Gryphon; Emily Martin, Mushroom/Flower Chorus/Mock Turtle; Safi Tala-Wootton, Duchess; Bevin Mills, Cook