Hannah Dworkin Channels Lewis Carroll, Enchantingly
by Rosa del Duca
“Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure” opens with a grand gesture—the entire cast sings a high-energy welcome, signaling that the kids are in for more than just Alice in Wonderland. This Bay Area Children’s Theatre “Adventure” is driven by pop beats and anthems at every turn. And if you grew up watching the 1985 made-for-TV movie Alice in Wonderland, this show brings it all back. “Wonderland” riffs on the retro favorite in all the right ways.
Seven-year-old Alice (animated, plucky Amanda Nguyen), must stay home and practice the piano while her older sister leaves on a trip. With her sympathetic cat (wonderfully expressive Caroline Schneider), Alice sings about how small she always feels. When the White Rabbit (athletic, hilarious Andrew Mondello) dashes by, screaming that he’s late, Alice jumps at the opportunity to follow him.
Alice leaps down the rabbit hole—a clever seam in the back of the set—launching her grand adventure.
Alice worries how she will ever get through a tiny door and how to keep her temper in the face of a rude caterpillar (silly, sensitive Kris Anthony Williams). She wonders what to make of the Cheshire Cat (versatile Mondello, who shines as the strange, devious cat), and whether to crash the Queen’s celebration. My favorite scene is the infamous tea party headed by the Mad Hatter (unhinged, subtly sinister Earl Alfred Paus). The actors unleash screwball comedy full tilt, to uproarious effect.
Alice’s adventure is peppered with catchy melodies, exceptional lyrics, and rock and roll choreography to compliment the action. The creative costuming is pure fun. The adaptable set is a delight right up to the end, when a giant, swelling moon appears, giving the stage an otherworldly feeling. Alice comes full circle, singing that she feels tall, now.
For the first 45 minutes, I kept glancing over at my baby, on my husband’s lap. River was leaning forward as far as he could, mouth open in apparent awe. During a song where the backup vocals repeated a croon, he sang back. While this show is recommended for ages 5 to 12, younger kids get a lot out of it. But watch out: no intermission.
Luckily, the Red Queen (multi-talented Caroline Schneider) has fantastic pipes and a royally big personality for the closing numbers. And it’s hard to be bored by an epic dance-off between Alice and the dreaded Jabberwocky.
If you’re remembering the terrifying Jabberwocky from the 80s movie, don’t worry. When BACT’s Jabberwock finally makes his entrance, he brings a giggling sigh of relief. “Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure” gets thumbs up from the entire family.
“Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure”—book by Rachel Rockwell, music by Michael Mahler, lyrics by Michael Mahler & Rachel Rockwell, adapted from Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, directed by Hannah Dworkin, at Bay Area Children’s Theatre, through Sunday, January 6, 2019. Info: bactheatre.org
Cast: Elisha X Beston, Cassie Grilley, Amanda Nguyen, Andrew Mondello, Earl Alfred Paus, Caroline Schneider, and Kris Anthony Williams.
Banner photo: Amanda Nguyen & Andrew Mondello
After its Berkeley run, BACT‘s “Wonderland” travels to San Francisco and Sunnyvale.