The two six-year-olds whom I accompanied (along with both their mothers) to the Saturday, May 7th matinee performance of The New Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, were giddy with excitement as we entered the theatre. The Ocean City Convention Center was crowded with activity. There was a volleyball tournament going on, and girls from teams across the state were wandering into the main floor of the center. We made our way to the Roland E. Powell Performing Arts Center and showed our tickets at the door.
It was there my daughter began to get nervous. She asked the usher, “Where are we sitting?”
The usher looked at our tickets. “You lucky girl,” she said. “You’re in the front row!”
She turned to me. “Why do we have to sit in the front row?”
My daughter has never been a fan of dark theaters. She’s six, but she’s seen only three movies in theaters in her life. (When I was that age I’d spent several hundred hours in dark theaters, mesmerized by moving pictures.) She was not happy about having to sit so close to the stage in a darkened theatre. When the lights went out she grabbed my arm and draped it over her shoulder.
I had only one expectation for this production of Alice in Wonderland, and that is that it would be like the book except in play format. There would be a girl named Alice—enthusiastically played by Danielle Tuomey—who would fall asleep in a tree, and then she would follow a white rabbit down a rabbit hole and enter the world of Wonderland. I was a little surprised, as was my daughter, to hear some heavy bass coming from the speakers, and the unmistakeable riffs of eighties jazz music. Howard Sribnick, the president of the Worcester County Library Foundation which brought the show to Ocean City, announced just before the performance that this was the 20th anniversary of the production. When I heard the music I understood.
Alice in Wonderland performance
The show doesn’t open in a park with Alice reading a book, though. It opens in a city. For this former Manhattanite, The City will always be New York City, and when the performers come out on stage and begin to dance against the backdrop of a cityscape, New York was my first thought. The White and Red Queens wander the stage with entourages in tow holding aloft cupcakes which they are taking to have judged at a cupcake baking competition. Alice steps in the middle of it, of course, as that is what Alice does. “Curiouser and curiouser,” cries Alice (in the book and in the musical), and the words could describe both what is happening to her, and Alice herself. Her curiosity is what propels the story. She wanders off to explore the city, losing her sisters, and it is then she sees the White Rabbit (Shawn Nakia) scurrying away with an invitation for the Duchess (Amanda Patten). Alice follows him, not down the rabbit hole but down the subway stairs. And anyone who’s ever ridden a New York City subway knows how dark those tunnels can look from the platform.
Here the show takes a more traditional turn, though with a few twists and turns that help the story move faster. What really gives the story a modern feel, and helps it stand out as truly a gem of a production, are the dances. This is not a musical in the sense that characters suddenly break out in song in the middle of a performance, though there are two songs that conclude the first and nearly finish the second acts. It is a musical dance performance in that every scene is full of spectacular, show stopping dance routines. The opening dance in the city scape sets the mood for dancing that both engages a young audience, and moves the story forward. In the subway tunnel number, Alice wears a lighted costume and dances through ever decreasing colored arches. The world seems to get smaller and smaller with each arch she passes through. In the tea party scene the dancing takes a modern twist with the Mad Hatter teaching Alice the Whip and the Nae Nae.
The Mad Hatter steals the show with his flamboyant costume and his witty and often outlandish modern references. Played with perfect over-the-topness by Jeremy Trammelle, the Hatter brings a smile to every face in the audience. Even my little girl pushed my arm away and clapped her hands excitedly when he crossed the stage in his giant tea cup.
After the show, the stars lined up in the lobby and the kids crowded around them. My daughter and her friend went to every performer for their autographs. The biggest crowd was around Alice. She is the star of the show, after all, and the one with whom most kids identify. It isn’t just her that makes this a great show, though. The entire cast, and the energy they bring to the show, make The New Adventures of Alice in Wonderland worth going out of your way to see.
Especially if you’re a nervous six-year-old.
The New Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Susan Thornton and written by Ms. Thornton and Steve Steele, was presented by Other Voices, Inc, at the Roland E. Powell Performing Arts Center in Ocean City. The show starred Danielle Tuomey, Julie Herber, Joann Lee, Amanda Patton, Jeremy Trammelle, Shawn Nakia, Adam Blackstock.