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Review: WONDERLAND at The Music Center At Strathmore

Review: WONDERLAND at The Music Center At Strathmore

A new spin on the Lewis Carroll classic, where Alice goes back to Wonderland to discover more of herself.

Review: WONDERLAND at The Music Center At Strathmore
Company of Young Artists of America's Wonderland. Photo couresy of the production.

Strathmore's Young Artists of America's production of Wonderland takes a new spin on the classic we grew up with. In this version, we see Alice, now grown up, who is faced with the many struggles that adulthood entails. Alice falls back "down the rabbit hole" into a Wonderland where she must face the different versions of herself to find her way back to her daughter. As usual, the Young Artists of America put on a wonderful show with their immense talent at such young ages and I feel very fortunate to be able to witness one of their productions once again.

One performance that is at the top of my list is Madi Heinemann's (Alice). This list isn't just for this show, this list refers to all of the most impressive performances I've ever seen. Heinemann proved she was meant for the stage the second she opened her mouth. Especially for a high school student, it's not always easy playing an adult who is experiencing such complex emotions, but Madi put in the work to play an unforgettable Alice.

The score was also challenging with intense rhythms and difficult notes that many struggle to sing with even more years of experience than Heinemann. Her tone was clear and immaculate, the vocal control she possessed was the utmost professional, and her acting choices are what pulled this performance together so well. She showed Alice as the busy mother who didn't have time for her family and then continued to display the arc of the character as she learned more about herself in Wonderland and fought for what she cared about. I was absolutely stunned by the amount of talent that came from this student and I know she will go on to be provided many amazing opportunities in the future.

Another highly captivating performance I was able to witness was that of Seger Ott-Rudolph's (Jack/White Knight). Facing Alice, Jack was the husband in their family who wanted to keep the three of them together. Ott-Rudolph clearly has a deep care for his castmates, as he appeared to translate that into this character, making this performance even more brilliant. Through his mesmerizing voice and great emotion, you feel what Jack is hoping for, though he knows he can't change it.

Then, there was Jack's Wonderland doppelganger, known as the White Knight. This introductory song was one of my favorites, as it seemed to be many others' as well. With more charisma and a bit of cockiness, the White Knight sings to Alice and his crowd of fans through a boy band styled anthem, alongside his other Knights as his group members. This song and Ott-Rudolph's performance made it so fun and entertaining that you wanted it to keep going. But after, we get to see the loyal and caring side of the White Knight that refers back to Jack, making Alice think about her decision in wanting a divorce.

Being vulnerable can be a scary thing in any situation, especially on stage, but bringing that to these characters is part of what made the audience so fascinated with any scene Ott-Rudolph was in. His stage presence was wonderful and still being so young, I am very excited for what his future will look like as well.

A familiar face from YAA's Aida was that of Ava Benson (Mad Hatter). I was very excited to see her in a more prominent role this time around while I was at Strathmore, remembering how much talent I could see she possessed with the bits I saw from her previous performances I witnessed. She indeed brought the madness to the well-known character and made a performance that was deviously enjoyable, knowing she was the true ruler of Wonderland and had the potential to rule every inhabitant of the mystical place.

Benson has a strong voice and amazing character choices that show why she was chosen for this role. Bringing her own flair to the Mad Hatter, unlike any Hatter I have seen before, gave us a performance that was truly impressive and jaw dropping, with energy high at all times, never shying away from the mountainous personality of this character.

For her royal counterpart, Katie Reeser (Queen of Hearts), the audience was stunned with the wonderfully portrayed Queen we all know and love in a top-tier villainess way. Reeser left no room for guessing when she was on stage, even under all the makeup and costume pieces, she made sure she was the focal point of the show with her astounding voice and animated acting. It was so fun watching her perform, especially in her show-stopping number, "Off With Their Heads," where she dazzled the crowd with her vocal and comedic abilities.

Young Artists of America is always such an enjoyable team to watch. You get to see young actors grow up into professionals and watch their support systems be proud of them every step of the way. Encouraging students to pursue the arts is such an important part of life, and the fostering of talent that YAA provides to these kids is wonderful. Whether you're a lead or in the ensemble, it's wonderful being able to experience something so unique, and I can always tell that these children truly enjoy the ride.

The kids are what make this so special, and seeing them tell a story I grew up with, in a new and exciting way, was very enjoyable. These students are taught the basics of how to throw a show together, but then we - the audience, parents, families, the production team - get to watch and learn from them. Another great performance from the Young Artists of America, I highly recommend going to see their upcoming shows.

Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes plus a 15 minute intermission.

Wonderland was a one-night only performance on December 3rd, 2022 at the Music Center at Strathmore, located at 5301 Tuckerman Ln, North Bethesda, MD 20852.

For more information about Young Artists of America, click here.

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