“...and what use is a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversation?”
An updated, 21st century version of this portion of Lewis Carroll’s first line which leads off “Down the Rabbit-Hole” might well be:
“...and what use is a musical adaption of a children’s classic,” thought some members of the audience, “if all of the imagining is done by adults (and without benefit of the 92 gloriously black-and-white illustrations by John Tenniel) instead of the vivid minds of the intended audience?”
Just as the Stratford Festival valiantly struggles with producing hit shows that will please parents by kindling memories past and their children with classic tales brought to life (a recent example being the 2014 production of Alice Through the Looking Glass), the old adage, “you can’t please everyone” was front and centre at the première of Peter Hinton’s new production of Alice in Wonderland.
In the spirit of Queen of Hearts (Moya O’Connell positively relishing the “off with their heads” cantus firmus), here’s what we liked:
It’s a visual tour de force. Eo Sharp’s set is a marvel of invention using every inch of the stage and every trap below. Having Alice literally fly down the rabbit-hole even with some crinoline “upsidedownness” was an interesting diversion, but anyone who has been in the same room as Spider-Man on Broadway will only wonder if there might have been another way to make the trek from everyday life to unbridled fantasy and adventure.
William Schmuck’s costumes most certainly unleashed the child within, surpassing his own exceptionally high level of variety, surprise and function (look no further than the marvellously alive caterpillar sextet for an unforgettable example).
Similarly, Kevin Lamotte was more than up to the challenge, lighting the riots of colour, texture and tone with rays that complemented, never overshadowed the subject matter.
No matter which role he undertook (Charles Dodgson, Mad Hatter, Mock Turtle), Graeme Somerville set the bar high for brilliant characterization, timing, tone and technique (spoken or sung). For a few precious moments everyone present rekindled/found their inner child.
Here’s what we weren’t tickled with:
The music by Allen Cole, conducted with warmth and precision by Paul Sportelli, was merely functional rather than memorable and uplifting.
While not having nearly as many triple-threat members as either principals or ensemble members compared to their colleagues on the Avon, there was never the chance for a showstopper, choreographer Denise Clarke wisely erring on the side of caution, to bring cheers and hoots from the old folks and a thrilling chill down the young spines of the many kids in the crowd (only a couple of times did we hear their squeals of delight that ought to have been the rule rather than the exception).
As Alice, Tara Rosling was engaging, crisp and clear but it was a huge stretch to imagine her as anything but the ever-inquisitive girl’s mother; the overused projections by Beth Kates and Ben Chaisson inadvertently confirmed her elder status with an extended close-up which was meant to validate Alice as a giant. As a whole, the projections produced more of a feeling of video games than deftly highlighting the otherwise magical transformations. Once again, the artistic trust gave viewers all of the answers instead of leaving more to their imaginations.
Finally, the “heavenly length” of the production will be a challenge for all concerned to maintain interest without some (old and young alike) taking a wee nap, or wondering why on earth Alice doesn’t cut to the chase, accept the cards she’s been dealt then scramble back to her sister and share the adventures “till she too began dreaming, after a fashion” one of her own. JWR