BWW Review: Down The Rabbit Hole is Fun with ALICE IN WONDERLAND at The Birmingham Children's Theatre
Last year The Birmingham Children's Theatre produced a riveting rendition of "The Three Musketeers". This summer they continue the Magic City Theatre Festival with a spin of the timeless 'Alice in Wonderland." Executive artistic director Brandon Bruce has panache for developing original and energizing works spawned from classic children's literature. "Alice in Wonderland" is developed by Bruce and his long time collaborator Luke Schares. The magic in Birmingham Children's Theatre productions is that these are not "kid shows" per say. Bruce and Schares pull elements and situations from three of Lewis Carrol's books "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", "Through The Looking Glass", and "The Jabberwocky." The result is a wonderful blend of Alice's adventure into a brave new world with unexpected surprises.
Alice (Emma Brooke Levering) is a young girl who after spying a curious white rabbit in a vest and coat run into hole. She follows it down and is whisked into a seemingly never-ending adventure. Leverling a gives and honest portrayal of a young girl who's eyes are wide in a unexpected new world. Leverling's relatable delivery tethers the audience to Alice's imaginative journey of discovery. The all female cast provides a wonderful "Girl Power" dynamic in the show. They all swap out into ancillary roles as the story continues. The fun characters are all here. The Cheshire Cat (Miranda Peppin) purred with feline playfulness. The Mad Hatter (Rebecca Yeager) gives a bountiful Looney Tunes spirit. White Rabbit (Joy Pointe) is a franticly funny bunny. The Door Mouse (Megan Oliver) is a narcoleptic knucklehead rapper. The Dutchess (Emily Louise Hoppe) is a madcap momma. The infamous Queen of Hearts (Charlotte Schorle) is ever the abrasive authoritarian. The characters and actresses chemistry all gel quite well on the whimsical stage. There is a noticeable harmony in this cast. You can tell that they are having a fun time together brining this imaginative production to life.
The house band provided a tight three piece sound with very creative arrangements by composer and musical director Samuel J. Tumminello. The show holds a heavy use of pop songs interjected into Alice's journey. This provides a fresh feel to the classic tale. Who knew Bruno Mars and The White Rabbit would match up so well? An audience sing-a-long song to "Locomotion" was a creative element used to distract when trains travel pass close by. This element kept the kids and parents both engaged and in the moment.
I asked some of the actresses after the performance about what interested them in doing BCT's production of "Alice in Wonderland."
Joy Pointe (The White Rabbit) comes to BCT from Clarksville Tennessee. "I've always loved "Alice in Wonderland." From the books to the classic Disney films. I love her sense of adventure. She's just so interested and intrigued by different things. That she can go into this world and never be afraid. I think that's something that I lack in my life at times. Being three hours from home. I'm trying to build up my own courage to pursue what I love. I connect with her on that level. It's a big help."
Megan Oliver (The Door Mouse) is a Montgomery native celebrating her first year anniversary with the BCT. "The all female cast is a very exciting thing. We have all had such a great time working with each other. Each of us has been picking apart the nuances of Alice growing up. She having this moment when she is realizing that she "Oh man, what does it mean to have these feelings that I am thinking." And she encounters these people in this journey who can point her in the right direction.
Miranda Pepin (The Cheshire Cat) comes to BCT from New York by way of Nashville. "I like to adventure out, just like Alice. I did not expect how fast everything was going to be. I knew we were going to be playing a bunch of different characters. But my mind was not ready to wrap around how everything keeps tumbling into the other. When you're rehearsing it scene-by-scene you still don't get it, until you're finally doing it. When you get to jump from character to character, and try to completely immerse yourself in a scene. It is just absolutely bonkers! That is what Alice in Wonderland is in itself. As an actor in this play you almost feel exactly what Alice is experiencing."
Scenic designer Ashley Ann Woods extremely impressive set provides delightful character and unexpected surprises. The design supports Alice's fall into a new world as a feast for the eyes. It has a whimsical twist of colors spun around industrial scaffolding. It's as if RENT paired with a kaleidoscopically psychedelic amusement park. The feeling captured is a playful madness under construction.
This is fitting for the performance was held at the historic Sloss Furnace. A curious space perfectly designed for the trip down into the world of Lewis Carroll's imaginative characters and landscapes. "Alice" will be moving to the Riverchase Galleria for its second week of performances.
To me the noticeable squeaky wheel in the production is in the amalgamated story. It suffers fatigue at times from scenes that run long. I felt some scenes could be trimmed down to make for a more cohesive storyline. The audio at Sloss is not the best and the muffling of dialogue gave many pause. If you were not familiar with the all stories it was difficult to follow or understand.
These events are fully funded by support of very generous patrons of the Birmingham arts community I asked Bruce about the importance of the supportive contributions to the Birmingham Children's Theatre. "Oh my goodness. It is everything." He replies. "Without them we wouldn't be able to do it. We received a lot from many different donors. If you tell people you want to do free theater, arts and cultural events that are specifically for children, and inside gorgeous spaces like Sloss Furnace. It's kind of funny because it really is not a hard sell. We want to do this again as an annual thing. Last year we did "Three Musketeers", which was part one of the Magic City Theatre Festival. Now we're going on to this as part two. Next year we would like to do more than one show." These performances are free and come at an expense. If you would like to donate to help make more of these events possible please reach out to them. at the link below.
"Alice in Wonderland" is an enjoyable family experience with many surprises that is well worth diving down a rabbit hole for.
Alice in Wonderland
Adapted by Brandon Bruce and Luke Schares
Based on the works of Lewis Carroll
Directed by Brandon Bruce
Composer and Musical Director Samuel J. Tumminello
Scenic Designer - Ashley Ann Woods
Lighting Designer - James Arakas
Sloss Furnaces - May 30 - June 2
The Riverchase Galleria - June 13 - 16th
FREE performance. All ages welcome.
More info - bct123.org