What happens when you bring together one of Chicago’s favorite directors, a globally recognized composer and lyricist and a theatre company famous for its magical family-friendly productions? If the director is Rachel Rockwell, the composer/lyricist is Michael Mahler, and the company is Chicago Children’s Theatre, the result is the vibrant Wonderland, Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure.
If you go
Wonderland, Alices Rock & Roll Adventure
April 22-May 24
Ruth Page Center for the Arts
1016 N. Dearborn St.
So what makes this incarnation of the beloved tale fresh and different? Besides a plotline tweaked to address Alice’s tween-aged concerns—and honestly, those of half the viewing audience—there’s also the kind of thoroughly enjoyable score that doesn’t even require a date of the much-younger variety.
The seasoned cast worked together seamlessly—even while performing multiple roles of narrating musicians and story characters—yet brought powerhouse energy to their solos. The role of Alice is being played by two equally talented actresses, Ariana D. Burks and Isabelle Roberts.
The evening we saw Wonderland featured 12-year-old Roberts, who brought an impressive dose of gravity to a character who can lean towards a Disney caricature.
Roberts’ Alice, besides being a versatile musician, understands that the rabbit hole mirrors the struggles of all tweens as they work through the murkiness of adolescence. The shadowy Jabberwock, in fact, who doesn’t physically appear until the end of the play, represents Alice’s own fear and self-doubt. To “slay the Jabberwock” is to confront Alice’s inner critic.
Geared towards ages 7 and up, there are a few darker moments in the show, but nothing that a preschooler raised on Pixar couldn’t handle.
The downright wonderful score ran the gamut from tunes reminiscent of Ziggy Stardust to a song that, if not heavily influenced by comedic/rock duo Tenacious D, should be sold to them immediately.
It would be hard to name a standout in this terrific cast, but Molly Callinan’s Red Queen is intimidatingly cool, with a voice tailor-made for hair metal, and Andrew Mueller’s Cheshire Cat is supremely fun in a David-Bowie-is-your-best-frenemy way.
This beautiful production is fast-paced—at 75 minutes—and wholly accessible for all ages, one which all families should make a very important date to see. There simply isn’t a dull moment from start to finish. The end battle between Alice and the Jabberwock turns into a startlingly effective blend of heavy metal and bluegrass, one which kept the entire audience on the edge of their seats, eager to see the result of this melodic standoff.
Another reason to love this company and show? Chicago Children’s Theatre is partnering with A.B.L.E. (Artists Breaking Limits & Expectations) to host an ensemble of 20 young actors with Down syndrome, ranging in age 14 to 20. Weekly classes and rehearsals with four teaching artists and 10 volunteer facilitators will culminate in a show all their own, staged on the professional Wonderland set.
Besides building lifelong skills of communication and cooperation throughout the process, the final production will spotlight each actor and their individual strengths. These versatile youths will play at least two different characters a piece through scenes, monologues, songs and dance during the May 22 performance.