“Wonderland” to set Lewis Carroll’s Alice to a rock beat

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Thanks to Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago has quite a lock on interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice  in Wonderland.” But now, courtesy of the Chicago Children’s Theatre, the classic by that Englishman with a flair for jabberwocked language and twisted logic, is about to get the rock and roll treatment.

“Wonderland, Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure” — a new family musical created by director Rachel Rockwell (whose “West Side Story” is now in a soaring production at Drury Lane Oakbrook) and music director Michael Mahler (the multi-talented actor, composer and musician — will be presented by CCT as the final entry in its 10th anniversary season.

Performances start April 22 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, with an official opening set for April 24, and a run through May 24.  For tickets ($10-$38), visit chicagochildrenstheatre.org or call (872) 222-9555.

Two dynamic young Chicago actors — Ariana Burks and Isabelle Roberts — have been tapped to alternate in the title role of Alice. Also in the cast will be Molly Callinan, Lillian Castillo, Matt Deitchman, Jed Feder, Regina Leslie, Jake Mahler, Adam Michaels, Andrew Mueller and Matthew Yee.

Top Chicago designers have joined the team, too, including Kevin Depinet (sets); Greg Hofmann (lights); Mike Tutaj (projections); Mara Blumenfeld (costumes); Lindsay Jones (sound), and Meredith Miller (props).

At the center of this “Wonderland” will be the question: How can you march to the beat of your own drummer when you’re still writing the song? This search for an authentic self is to be explored in the book by Rachel Rockwell (by way of Lewis Carroll, of course), music by Mahler, and lyrics by Mahler and Rockwell.

The show will feature an eclectic, live rock soundtrack as 7-year-old Alice searches for her own inner musical voice. Along the way, “she faces challenges and fears, but meets the ultimate test in the form of the Jabberwocky, an insidious monster made of up of the dark thoughts and self-doubt that lurks inside.” Throughout her journey, the actors will surround Alice in a live musical tapestry ranging from classic rock, to punk, to ska, with even a bit of Bollywood.

In a prepared statement, Rockwell explained: “In our version of the Alice story, Alice is much more of an active protagonist. We’re talking girl power here, empowering girls, in particular, to boldly discover their true selves. Michael’s score borrows from all sorts of classic rock styles, everything from hints of Heart, Joan Jett, Oingo Boingo and Tenacious D, to Queen and the Beatles. Rock concert meets live theater as Alice reflects the vulnerabilities of all kids, and then confidently finds Alice’s own inner voice.”

About the two Alices:

Ariana Burks is a 15-year-old, Emmy nominated actress/singer with many credits including “The Black and White Ball” (with the new FWD Theatre Project). Other credits include “Seussical” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater; “A Christmas Carol” at the Goodman; and “Hairspray”at Drury Lane Oakbrook. Her film and TV credits include “Chicago Fire”on NBC; “Prank Stars” on the Disney Channel; and “The Jr. Cuisine Cooking Show” on PBS. She is a member of the youth ensemble at Lookingglass Theatre.

Isabelle Roberts is a 12-year-old Glencoe seventh-grader, who has been seen as Brigitta in “The Sound of Music” at Lyric Opera, Young Fiona in “Shrek the Musical” at Northwestern University, “Clarice in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” at the Broadway Playhouse and Mary Claire Daugherty in “The Christmas Schooner”at the Mercury Theater.

Director Rachel Rockwell’s credits include “Brigadoon” at the Goodman; “Mary Poppins,” “Annie” and “In the Heights” at the Paramount; “Ragtime” and “The Sound of Music” at Drury Lane Oakbrook; and “Shrek The Musical,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Adventures of Pinocchio” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Michael Mahler is the Jeff Award-winning composer/lyricist of “Hero” (at the Marriott Theatre); “How Can You Run with a Shell on Your Back?” (at Chicago Shakespeare); “Knute Rockne: All-American” (at Theater at the Center);  and many others.

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