Aftershock Entertainment’s WONDERLAND! is a rather silly adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, but that’s okay, and not to worry. It’s not the WONDERLAND that flopped on Broadway in May. That is a good sign. This production was designed more for the kids in mind than a Broadway-paying audience. It has high-energy to be sure. Great young singers and some really cute bits; my twelve-year-old daughter loved it. There are pratfalls, slapstick and double-talk. If your inner-child likes over-the-top acting and high-energy performances, you’ll enjoy this show; your children will love it because it was made for them.
The music, sound and lights were quite fine. And, the acting, is often very, very good especially when parts are played honestly. I found a few standout actors including, Victoria Gold as “Alice” who was totally believable as a girl out-of-place, and her beautiful singing voice fit perfectly. I was also impressed with Emily Krowicki, when she came out as the “Troubadour” in the beginning. Sara Viniar was hysterical as the “White Queen” and can definitely hold a note. Jill Bradshaw made the diabolical “Red Queen” noticed wherever she stood, and she hit the notes well, too. Angel Principato was truly appealing as “Hatta,” making this play’s version of the Mad Hatter more cute than annoying. Principato made the character her own, and it worked. Cecelia Arangio and Roni Clothier as “Tweedle Dee” and “Tweedle Dum” had a lot of great comic moments. Michael J. Krowicki as “Humpty Dumpty” made his mark with the song alone. Everyone in the cast: please know I felt your energy and enthusiasm and saw lots of talent even if I wasn’t able to include everyone here.
The eclectic mix of music is perhaps what makes a range of audience possible, although I still think this fits more in the realm of children’s theatre rather than fun for the whole family. Not that it isn’t possible. I am perhaps a bit jaded having young children, and having had to see my share of children’s theatre performances, but, of those, this is one of the best I’ve seen. The music is pretty decent overall and ranges from gypsy swing to doo-wop to bluegrass. I have to admit I liked some numbers very much. There are some great numbers for the kids in particular like “Anything’s Possible,” “Jabberwocky,” “The Walrus and the Carpenter” as well as “Step by Step,” a number that stands well on its own. A nice change from the standard musical fare was a country song, “I was a Good Egg But Then I Done Went Bad,” sung by Humpty Dumpty and the Dixie Chickens! Well, in fantasy, HD can be a cowboy.
As an adult I found some of this performance to be grating with the overacting, but that’s inherent to being an adult. It is to be expected if you are doing a children’s play. Everything is bigger. We have to keep the little critters’ minds busy. Some of the singing was absolutely outstanding and some individual actors pulled some action back on stage to other actors such as the White Queen, Hatta, and, of course, Alice. I think this production may have been intended for a family audience, but the direction by Joshua Kurtz and the choreography by Hillary Kurtz set it more in the realm of children’s theatre, with everything big and simple.
Theatre takes many forms and styles. To reach the grown-ups some things have to be adjusted just as Disney (or Pixar) put in references adults get and the children don’t, there’s plenty in a play such as this for everyone. Now, I’m not saying add dialogue, but back off from playing to just the children. Fantasy is ironic, too, with lessons for all audience members. There were certainly moments when the acting approached a higher plane, especially among the more experienced actors, but most of the company seemed to go with energy and exaggeration–somewhere between cartoon and caricature.
To make this show for the entire family (that is, if you wanted to), some changes would have to be made such as taking the comedy deadpan-serious, fewer people on stage taking focus away from the main action, and letting there be action on stage between actors. Not just physical action.
One of the best moments had just a few members on stage. Granted, it was physical action, relying on some special talents of the cast who managed a pretty incredible light-sword (Star Wars light-swords) fighting display–even evoking a ninja-like acrobatic parody. Might have been even “cooler” with lit light-swords in a darkened auditorium, but I suppose that is my fantasy. Physical action, lots of jumps, rolls and running dominated the company’s movements on stage. Dancing was limited, not only by the size of the group on stage, but I think it was a deliberate attempt at keeping it simple. So much of the show is directed at the audience even though there is “action” on stage, i.e., interaction with Alice. Some show numbers are meant to be directed at the audience especially in children’s theatre. With a large ensemble, they have no place else to go. Less is more.
With the exception of children’s theatre, focusing too much singing directly at the audience is a no-no unless the action calls for it, unless it is an intended violation of that fourth wall. It happens more than you think. Sometimes it is a microphone problem, but often it is inexperience with musical theatre. You sing to each other on stage first, and you can open to your thoughts to the world (the audience). I’ve said this before. Musical theatre incorporates the music in the art; the theatre is not just a vehicle for music production.
WONDERLAND! is a musical for kids. Bring yours and enjoy the high-energy, vibrant music and Lewis Carroll’s fantastical characters (and a few more).
Book adapted by James DeVita
Music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur
Directed by Joshua Kurtz
August 19-21, 2011
at Haddonfield Plays and Players
957 East Atlantic Ave