By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
You most definitely don’t want to be late or, God forbid, miss experiencing this “curious” adventure of “Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure” presented by Imagination Stage in their beautiful facility in Bethesda, Md. This is the single best production I’ve seen at Imagination Stage in the seven years I’ve been bringing grandchildren to their shows and let me hasten to say that I’ve seen some pretty wonderful shows on this stage! This, however, is a show for all ages and political persuasions. Young people will adore the brightly colored, brilliantly conceived costumes by Ivania Stack and sets by Misha Kachman. Adults will “get” them and laugh at how wonderfully silly (and beautifully Mackensie-Childs-like) they are, and everyone will love the rock and roll music! The audience especially appreciated the delightful Rachael Rockwell and Michael Mahler music and lyrics, which can be easily heard from actors/singers who enunciate clearly! But wait, the sound design is also first rate! Thank you, Christopher Baine.
Director Kathryn Chase Bryer, (also Associate Artistic Director of Imagination Stage) has Alice (Erin Weaver) sing, dance, play the guitar, the piano, and even the drums in this contemporary musical take on two classic tales, “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” by Lewis Carroll. She is perfect and looks and sounds to us like a real “Alice” down to her impeccable British accent. Erin, a five-time Helen Hayes Award winner who has worked locally at Arena Stage, The Folger Theatre, Signature Theatre, Round House Theatre and many others, scurries after the White Rabbit into Wonderland. All of the other familiar Lewis Carroll characters are played brilliantly by seven actors/musicians. And they have all been transformed into live guitar-toting Rock ‘n’ Roll musicians! Can they play, you ask? OH, YES!
Almost all the familiar scenes from the books are there, too; several, such as the clever episode of “Drink Me” and “Eat Me” earn their own round of applause from an appreciative audience. In this inventive production Alice takes advice from a truly zen Caterpillar played by Aaron Bliden and a wise Cheshire Cat played by Hasani Allen (who almost steals the show!). She has a bizarre tea with the looney Mad Hatter, played by Matthew Ward, and the Dormouse, voiced by Daven Ralston, and tries to understand the bewildering and childish Tweedle Dee (Matthew Aldwin McGee) and Tweedle Dum (Aaron Bliden). When the vicious diva Red Queen (Matthew Schleigh), in the most fabulous outfit of the show, tries to destroy her, Alice fights back only to find herself in a battle of the bands with the scary Jabberwock (Tess Higgins and Matthew Schleigh), a many-headed monster who embodies all her fears and insecurities. Alice ultimately outperforms him on guitar and drums; she is crowned at last, and returns home a much stronger, wiser and happier girl.
Synetic Theatre company member Robert Bowen Smith worked with the actors to create the amazing choreography for this show. When Alice goes down the rabbit hole, he has two actors lift, twist, and turn her upside down and you would swear she is falling down, down, down. The remainder of this truly gifted creative team includes Music Director Deborah Jacobson, Lighting Designer Zachary Gilbert, Puppet Designer Matthew Pauli, and Stage Manager Madison Bahr. My parting thoughts: the writers have successfully translated Carroll’s irrational Wonderland to our own times, incorporated easy to understand life lessons for kids, and added lyrics and a beat that will make you want to twist and shout, or as the audience did at my showing, leap out of their seats, stand and applaud this extraordinary cast. I think you will, too! Don’t Be Late for this Mid-Atlantic Region Premiere.
Ticket and Performance Information:
“Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure,” best for ages 5+, runs now through August 13, 2017 in Imagination Stage’s Annette M. and Theodore N. Lerner Family Theatre. Tickets start at $10 and may be purchased online at www.imaginationstage.org, at the Imagination Stage box office, or via phone at 301-280-1660. Group rates are available.