by Hugh Hunter
A lot of parents like to do something special with their children during holiday season. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” now running at Quintessence Theatre in Mt. Airy, might solve their problem.
Last year Quintessence presented “The Wind in the Willows” as seasonal family entertainment. “Alice” is even more ambitious. Using the adaptation of Simon Reade (2004), the production imbues the Lewis Carroll (a.k.a. Charles Dodgson) classic with a dazzling mix of dance, music, lights and costume.
The story can be hard to follow as Carroll deliberately creates a world of continual non-reason and serendipity. Director Alexander Burns aspires to allow the audience to feel “…that strange giddiness you might experience in a nonsensical dream…”
I never felt giddy, but I was regularly amused and at times astounded. Burns augments the work of his own light designer (David Sexton) with the ArcheDream for HUMANKIND, a troupe that uses black light and special costumes. The show playfully recreates special effects I remember from the original Disney movie I saw as a child.
Amazingly, we feel Alice truly is falling down that rabbit hole, seeming to pass by objects suspended in the air. Once again we see the vanishing smile of the Cheshire Cat (Andrew Betz) and the smoke rings of the Caterpillar (Khris Davis) drift from his hookah to hang in midair.
Emiley Kiser is so winning as changeable Alice you almost wish Kiser would never grow older. Alice’s stern sister (Faith Fossett) becomes Queen of Hearts. The Queen breaks the “fourth wall,” making the audience jurors at Alice’s trial. But new rules prevail in topsy-turvy Wonderland: first the sentence (“Off with her head”), then the verdict.
We do not spend much time on the Mad Hatter’s tea party, where the word play might be over the head of a young audience. Both script and production focus more on spectacle and action. Dodo (Johnny Smith), Mouse (Anita Holland), Mock Turtle (Sean Bradley) and White Rabbit (Sean Close) all have their special moments.
With the help of costume designer Jane Casanave, Alice’s strange companions always look funny and are always ready to dance. Dodo gets everyone to step out in the Caucus Race. Mock Turtle excites his companions into doing the lobster quadrille before he collapses back into his pot (choreography Kaki Burns).
As with several Quintessence productions, David Cope creates original Songs and Music for the show, and his musical themes tie in nicely with the action. Faith Fossett does double duty as music director, and the 8-member cast is good enough to perform as a solo chorale.
“Alice” is full of invention and keeps surprising you. Running for under two hours with the intermission, you are a little sorry to see it end because it feels like you are leaving a really good party.
Quintessence is located at 7137 Germantown Ave. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” will run through Jan 4. Reservations available at 215-987-4450 or www.Quintessencetheatre.org.