“Wonderland, Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure” channels a glam Queen
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Who would have guessed that a little 19th century English girl by the name of Alice — fabled for tumbling down a rabbit hole, encountering a series of twisted (even decadent) characters, and getting herself invited to a mad tea party with a March Hare and a Mad Hatter — could become the center of a monumental, centuries-long entertainment juggernaut?
Yet ever since her invention by Lewis Carroll, Alice, of Wonderland fame, has become the genesis of a veritable industry of girl power — the inspiration for countless plays, musicals, operas, television specials, films, comic books, ballets, songs and more.
Now, the latest addition to the history of Alice’s storytelling allure comes with the debut of the Chicago Children’s Theater production of “Wonderland, Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure,” a zany, hip, fully “rockin'” 80-minute odyssey. The show might not be quite as grand as the Lookingglass Theatre’s classic “Lookingglass Alice,” or the “Alice in Wonderland” Christopher Wheeldon created for Britain’s Royal Ballet, or even Grace Slick’s enduring Jefferson Airplane song, “White Rabbit.” But it is a lovely parable that follows a path reminiscent of the one paved in “The Wizard of Oz,” with Alice falling asleep and getting carried away on a disorienting, but ultimately transformational voyage of self-discovery.
With music by Michael Mahler (everything from heavy metal and punk to English country), a book by Rachel Rockwell (the first “script” by this director-choreographer responsible for the current Drury Lane Theatre knockout, “Billy Elliot”), and lyrics that turn out to be a deft collaboration between the two, the show is an ideal mix of wit and heart that should have appeal for audiences of all ages.
‘WONDERLAND, ALICE’S ROCK & ROLL ADVENTURE’
When: Through May 24
Where: Chicago Children’s Theater at
Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn
Tickets: $10 – $38
Info: (872) 222-9555;
Run time: 80 minutes with no intermission
It begins as Alice (Ariana D. Burks, a highly experienced young actress with a gorgeous face, power pipes and beautifully nuanced acting skills), a seven-and-a-half-year-old who resents the more adventurous life of her older sister (Lillian Castillo, a natural comedian with a buoyant spirit and big voice), vents her frustrations to her dutiful cat (the easily edgy but engaging Andrew Mueller).
Before long, Alice is tumbling down a rabbit hole, shape-shifting after she drinks a questionable potion, and engaging with a series of rather odd and menacing creatures with rock ‘n’ roll tendencies, including: The White Rabbit (Matt Deitchman, who doubles as keyboardist); a cagey Caterpillar (Jake Mahler); a March Hare (Adam Michaels); a Mad Hatter (Matthew Yee); a Dormouse in pink pajamas (Jed Feder, who doubles as drummer): and the fearsome, spiky-haired Jabberwock (Mueller).
Along the way she munches on bits of a mushroom, sits down to tea, and wanders into a garden for a beauty slap-down with some haughty roses (Castillo and Regina Leslie, who also is a fine violinist). She also awaits an audience with the mean and tempestuous Queen of Hearts (Molly Callinan, whose rocker flair is paired with a fashion model’s body), while learning the difference between a leader who commands fear and one who earns respect. Ultimately, Alice’s encounter with a unicorn underscores her own sense of uniqueness — just in time for her to return to her senses after a long nap.
Mike Tutaj’s elaborate projection design (winningly lit by Greg Hofmann) is full of aptly psychedelic effects, and also takes its cues from John Tenniel’s iconic original drawings for “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass.” Mara Blumenfeld’s costumes are a beguiling mix of Victoriana, anthropomorphism, and glam rock and kinky boots.
The perfectly quirky, animated, multi-talented actors deserve applause. And they might well have you believing that Lewis Carroll channeled a certain Queen more than a century before that band ever took to the stage.
All in all, a fine final entry in Chicago Children’s Theater’s 10th anniversary season.
AND ONE FINAL NOTE: As in “Billy Elliot,” another show in which two actors alternate in the title role, Burks was joined for final bows by actress Isabelle Roberts, and the two girls danced off hand-in-hand. A lovely tradition.