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Alice: A New Musical brings new life & meaning to a surreal children’s classic

Its emphasis on the fears of growing up under the pretense of innocence really kicked me in the childhood and reminded me why I loved reading those books so much in the first place.

MadelyneAshworth | August 21, 2017

It’s hard to find originality in a storyline that has been so overdone, but somehow this little musical manages to reignite the spark of mad imagination Lewis Carroll started with, over 150 years ago.

Alice: A New Musical, another co-production from Firehouse Theatre and TheatreLAB, is playing at The Basement on Broad Street until next weekend. This is a great show to bring your children to, as its quirky charm and strong messages make it a lovely coming-of-age show. All the familiar faces will be there, along with a few lesser-known character,s as this contemporary musical by Lesley Anderson and Andrew Barbato is inspired by both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Its emphasis on the fears of growing up under the pretense of innocence really kicked me in the childhood and reminded me why I loved reading those books so much in the first place. It’s a simple, light-hearted musical that draws strongly on Alice’s fear of turning 13 years old. Her character, played by the capable TheatreLAB newcomer Rachel Marrs, journeys through Wonderland and learns that growing old doesn’t mean giving up on childhood dreams.

The songs are sweet and lighthearted, with charming humor littered throughout. The all-female cast is nothing short of delightful. These ladies prove that women are indeed hilarious as well as versatile, since most of the cast play multiple roles. I couldn’t find one weak singer in the whole cast and as an ensemble, their voices create a powerful chorus. Grey Garrett, who plays the White Queen, deserves a special nod, as her charming melodies and constant expression of intrigue mixed with confusion make her an engaging narrator. Although the stage is small and they don’t have CGI or animation at their fingertips, these ladies understand they aren’t working with much and yet find a way to not only have fun with it, but make it feel magical.

The general storyline stays true to what we’ve read and seen in the past, albeit with a different order or tone. Some scenes were turned on themselves, which gave a fresh perspective to those overdone tropes. For example, the writers took that famous “painting the roses red” scene as a chance to emphasize the Red Queen’s aversion to happiness and Alice’s desire to live out childhood dreams.

The only scene that really disappointed me was the tea party scene. The Mad Hatter, played by Caitlin Sneed, didn’t quite have the presence we have come to expect from the character. Plus, I was a little devastated that the actor wore a straw hat instead of Hatter’s iconic, magnificent top hat. The March Hare, played by Mallory Keene, and Dormouse, played by Anne Michelle Forbes, didn’t quite sell their insanity strongly enough, nor did their madness match the silliness shown by other characters throughout the show. However, these ladies portrayed their other characters perfectly, including the Cook, Duchess and the Cheshire Cat (who, by the way, was quite an ingenious puppet).

Although The Basement didn’t give scenic designer, director and props master Adam Ferguson very much to work with, he pulled it off with a marvelous grace. Picture frames, tree branches, keys, rags, block letters, and paper teapot cutouts are strewn about the walls in no particular fashion. I felt as though I were in a secret attic or a forgotten cellar that had filled up with little memories. The set is somewhat an organized chaos, and it’s done beautifully for such a small space. With only a few stage lights, the designers deftly utilize vintage lanterns and fairy lights, creating a woodsy, nostalgic atmosphere. Objects and actors are constantly moving. You can’t notice all the movement except to have a general understanding that everything is always changing–perfect for Wonderland.

This show certainly isn’t an instant Broadway classic, but it’s cute, it’s fun, and it managed to bring a tear to my eye. The cast and crew have done a wonderful job of making the production special, as well as giving us just a small reminder that no matter how old you are, a little madness can be good for you.