Story: Poor Alice. What’s a seven-and-a-half-year-old (exactly!) girl going to do when she seems to be smothered by the good intentions of her older sister? She yearns to be someplace else, finding her true self there in self-expression and independence.
Lo and behold, Alice encounters a large, talking white rabbit, a curious sight indeed. She follows him down a rabbit hole, and after that all manner of madness and mayhem ensue. There’s a disappearing cat with a wide grin, a crazy tea party organized haphazardly by a Mad Hatter, a sleepy Dormouse and a March Hare who’s elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.
Add an imperious and unreasonable Red Queen with a penchant for yelling “Off with their heads!,” a pair of bickering twins named Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a philosophical caterpillar and a fearsome Jabberwock which terrorizes the community and Alice seems to have herself in a twisted if tasty pickle.
Really, all she wants to do is find her own voice and self-expression, be a vibrant part of an inclusive community. While she’s advised to “run as fast as you can just to stay in the same place” and considers the riddle that “I’ve often seen a cat without a smile but never a smile without a cat,” this strange and surreal “wonderland” might be just the ticket to self-esteem for this inquisitive lass.
Highlights: Metro Theater Company welcomes children and adults alike to this festive, musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved stories, updated with a modern message and ‘happening’ music which makes for a frolic-filled production.
Other Info: Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure premiered in Chicago in 2015, featuring music by Michael Mahler, book by Rachel Rockwell and lyrics by both Mahler and Rockwell. It’s based, of course, on Carroll’s fascinating pair of 19th century classics, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
For more than a century and a half Carroll’s fertile imagination has served as inspiration for countless adaptations running the gamut from film to animation to opera to musicals and everything in between. This particular St. Louis premiere by Metro Theater Company, e.g., features a rearrangement of the score by music director Lamar Harris (aka DJ Nune).
The locally-based musician, according to the Metro news release, “has infused his signature style and influences of soul and neo-soul. From drums, trumpet and French horn to guitar, bass and ukulele, Harris assembled a particular combination of nine instruments to tell the story.” The production’s 10 performer/musicians each plays a different instrument throughout the presentation, as does Harris.
Metro’s rendition is an eclectic mix of soul, rock, punk, ska, hip hop and a variety of sounds fused into an appealing musical concoction. While they're certainly loud enough, the hard-driving rock numbers are considerably more appealing than the obligatory albeit bland ballads which tend to drag the story down and hamper the otherwise brisk pace of the one-act, 90-minute presentation.
Director/choreographer Jamie McKittrick moves her enthusiastic ensemble seamlessly through the work’s numerous scenes, all enhanced by the colorful and imaginative set designed by Cameron Tesson. The psychedelic costumes created by Jennifer ‘JC’ Krajicek further enhance the show’s whimsical nature, as do Meg Brinkley’s funky props.
Rusty Wandall adds a complementary sound design, complete with fearsome noises from the Jabberwock, and there’s a colorful lighting design contributed by Kylee Loera.
The fast-moving, effervescent cast includes Sankofa Soleil in the title role and adding some nice guitar licks. Patrick Blindauer makes for a dandy Cheshire Cat, with his accordion-turned-smile shirt, as well as Alice’s tabby Dinah. Syrhea Conaway gives the Jabberwock some fierce intonations, while Alice Reve Like smoothly handles roles as Alice’s sister and a cheerful unicorn.
Shannon Cothran gives the ruminating Caterpillar an “OM”niscient presence as well as infusing the March Hare with her own brand of insanity. Wyatt McCall frets properly as the White Rabbit and is amusing as the frenetic, off-kilter Mad Hatter.
Omega Jones is wonderful in his towering heels as the fearsome Red Queen, who enjoys nothing more than winning at all costs in rigged games, including a croquet match against Alice featuring flamingoes as croquet mallets and hedgehogs as balls.
He matches well also with Erika Flowers-Roberts as the dimwitted pair of dolts, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, respectively. Jason Moore is called down from his musical duties to play the somnambulant Dormouse.
Each of the players also has a hand in the show’s lively musical score, cleverly arranged by Harris. Whether it’s music or comedy or a combination of both you prefer, you’ll find it readily available in this frenzied and fanciful homage to Lewis Carroll and his eternally imaginative land of wonder and whimsy.
Musical: Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure
Company: Metro Theater Company
Venue: Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
Dates: December 7, 9, 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30, plus matinees December 26, 27, 28, 29
Tickets: $14-$20; contact 534-1111 or metroplays.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Ron James