Monday, July 25, 2011

Off Off Broadway: Alice: A New Musical

When I took my granddaughter Naomi (aged 10 1/2) to see Alice: A New Musical, I felt a bit as if we were about to descend into our own rabbit hole.  We were eagerly anticipating what we were about to see, we were more than willing to suspend our disbelief, and yet we were fearful that we might be disappointed by a limited off off Broadway interpretation of the book by Lewis Carroll that we both knew and loved so well.  In my experience, off off Broadway plays, particularly adaptations of classics, are notoriously uneven: a few are delightfully creative productions but all too many others turn out to be pale imitations of the original works upon which they are based.

Rocio Del Mar Valles debuting as Alice in the NY production of Alice: A New Musical

But in this case, I must say that we really lucked out and we emerged from our descent into the rabbit hole with broad smiles on our faces that would have done the Cheshire Cat himself proud.  To be sure, Andrew Barbato and Lesley DeSantis (co-writers of the book, music and lyrics), in squeezing Carroll’s opus into a one hour stage production, did omit many of Carroll’s best scenes and I must admit that if I’d had my druthers, I’d have preferred to have seen the play expanded to, say, two hours, with even more of Carroll’s original work preserved.  But given the time constraint, what remained was relatively true to Carroll’s book with Alice (Rocio Del Mar Valles) and her sister (Ashley Dawn Mortensen), the Queen of Hearts (Rachel Bahler) and the White Queen (Lizzie Klemperer), the Mad Hatter (David R. Gordon) and the White Rabbit (Cameron Perry), Tweedle Dum (Joe Chisholm) and Tweedle Dee (Devon Stone), and all the rest of this very talented cast all dutifully appearing on schedule to entertain an entranced audience.

The music, book, lyrics and costumes were all enjoyable and the entire company’s singing was truly exceptional.  The set was close to as minimalist as you can get but Andrew Barbato (who not only co-wrote and directed the play but was its set designer as well) was more than up to the challenge: he set a tall ladder on its side, added a box, a wheel and a scrap of cloth and –voila! – there was the ship adrift on Alice’s sea of tears.  He angled the ladder a bit differently and dispensed with the box, the wheel and the cloth – and there was the entrance to the rabbit hole.  He stood the ladder upright and as Alice ascended and descended, the audience shared her magical shrinkage and enlargement.

The play’s producers did take one small liberty with Carroll’s book and that was all to the good: it was to portray Alice as a thirteen year old girl who runs away from home and embarks on her adventure on the very day scheduled for the birthday party her mother has planned for her, lest she be forced to grow up too fast and abandon her youthful imagination.  By portraying her in that manner, the play’s producers managed to deliver a couple of worthwhile messages to their audience (as well as an hour’s entertainment): to wit, that becoming an adult doesn’t have to mean totally relinquishing one’s childhood; that one’s own mother is seldom as bad as her daughter might make her out to be; that mothers, too, have problems of their own; and that, when all is said and done, not only mothers but siblings too (even big sisters!) are still worth having around. 

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