Alice in Wonderland
by Dan Zeff
Lincolnshire-The Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences takes its productions for youngsters very seriously. The shows aren’t kissed off with semi professional performers and bargain basement sets and costumes. The kiddies who enter the theater are seeing A List talent fully committed to giving their youthful visitors an hour plus of high quality stage entertainment that hopefully will groom them to become the patrons of the future.
Consider the current Marriott production of “Alice in Wonderland.” The show has been adapted by Marc Robin, an iconic figure in Chicagoland music theater. The director and choreographer is Matt Raftery, a rising star in the area theater firmament who choreographed the terrific revival of “South Pacific” now at Marriott. And the cast list includes performers who have starred in adult productions, players like Scott Calcagno, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Emily Rohm, Holly Stauder, and Sophie Grimm. The deliciously fantastical costumes are the work of Nancy Missimi, who has won awards beyond counting for her costume designs at Marriott. The quality control is impeccable, and all for a mere $15 a ticket. Is there a bigger bargain in family entertainment the metropolitan area? I think not.
The Marriott production is Robin’s riff on the original Lewis Carroll English classic. The adaptation picks up many of the lead characters from the Carroll story 5though not many of the incidents. Robin has created a bouncy musical score for the show with some hip lyrics that will amuse the parents and grandparents in the crowd at least as much as the kiddies.
Raftery has put together a high energy staging that gives the audience much to engage the eye, with Missimi’s witty and extravagant costumes a continuous delight. The story centers at the adventures of young Alice after she plunges down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, encountering one logically illogical character after another. The action is always playful, even when the Queen of Hearts brandishes an ax to chop off the heads of subjects who displease her because her tray of tarts has disappeared.
Emily Rohm’s Alice has a feisty personality and Rohm must be one of the most physically attractive Alices in the stage history of the story. "The scene stealers are Calcagno as an exuberant Mad Hatter and Holly Stauder who played the Cheshire Cat like a cabaret singer out of a Kurt Weil musical." Stauder and Grimm pair up toi make a savvy Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. But every member of the nine-performer ensemble is first rate and holds nothing back in exuberance, a considerable commitment I suspect for actors unaccustomed to giving a performance that starts at 10 a.m.
The production includes audience participation, including bringing four kiddies on stage to sit as a jury in the trial of the Knave of Hearts, accused of complicity in the missing tarts caper. And after the performance, the cast remains on stage to take questions from the children in the crowd, a few very perceptive about the choices the actors make in portraying their characters. The responses from the stage were intelligent and never patronizing to the youth of the questioners. The exchange rounds out a thoroughly user friendly theatrical event.
The barometer of success in a children’s play is how well the production holds the attention of the audience. The theater was packed and the youngsters made up about ninety per cent of the attendees, including numerous three and four year olds I was sure would be trouble once the show began. But the entire house was spellbound throughout the 65-minute performance, fully engaged in the fantasy of the story and the scintillating costumes and visual effects. Even fragments of the permanent “South Pacific” set melded in perfectly with the exoticism of Wonderland.
“Alice in Wonderland” runs through May 18 at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive. Show times and dates vary. Tickets are $15. For information, call 847 634 0200 or visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.
The show gets a rating of four stars.
Contact Dan: ZeffDaniel@Yahoo.com April 2013
Like Dan on Facebook. Become a Friend!!!