By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission
Curiouser and curiouser… those are the words that come to mind when I think about the traditional, albeit twisted and psychedelic tale of a little girl named Alice and her adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It’s a dream-like story that can sometimes be convoluted and hard to follow, but there’s a certain appeal it has that has helped it survive many re-births since it’s original publishing in 1865. Whether it receives the Disney treatment in the 1951 animated feature, Alice in Wonderland, or the Tim Burton treatment in his 2010 film, Alice in Wonderland, it has never been a story I go out of my way to read or see presented on stage or film… until now. Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, Lookingglass Alice, an adaptation of the stories of Lewis Carroll by David Catlin, Directed by Jeremy B. Cohen, with Music Direction by Jose C. Simbulan and Choreography by Rennie Harris gives this timeless story a fresh, modern re-boot with fun music and fast-paced staging that pulls it out of the Victorian age and places it right into the hands of 21st century.
Technically, this production is top-notch. Set Design by Tim Mackabee and Light and Sound Design by Rui Rita and Lindsay Jones, respectively, pull this production together in an awe-inspiring mix that tingles all the senses. Mackabee is wise to use a minimal, unit set that is quite appropriate and does not interfere with, but enhances the telling of the story, providing levels and though-out set pieces to keep the production interesting. Working in tandem with Mackabee’s design is the well thought-out and attention grabbing light show that sets the mood of each scene beautifully and gives a nightclub feel in well-placed points of the production, keeping the audience engaged and interested.
Lindsay Jones’ sound design is nothing but superb. Every effect is placed perfectly and carefully making the experience that much more enjoyable. Not only is he responsible for Sound Design but he also wears the hats of Composer of original music and Musical Arranger taking the well-chosen songs and fitting them into the piece perfectly to help move the story along and give it depth. Major kudos to Jones for his impeccable work on this piece.
Rennie Harris’ Choreography is inspiring and full of energy making this piece engaging and engrossing with a mix of hip-hop and lyrical moves fill the stage and show off the ensemble’s individual abilities. Also, working together with Harris’ fabulous choreography, Jose C. Simbulan’s Music Direction is on point as this cast is flawless in the delivery of the songs included in this piece. Both choreography and vocal performances make for a delightful and intriguing two hours of theatre.
Jeremy B. Cohen takes the helm of this production of Lookingglass Alice and his direction is spot on with focused, precise staging that gets actors on and off efficiently and transitions between the scenes, which are more like vignettes, are flawless. The pacing is near perfect with every moment used wisely. Cohen’s comprehension of this piece is quite apparent as his refreshing vision of this aged story with an updated, intelligent script is presented with a delicate balance of new and old.
Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, all of the actors in this small ensemble take on many, varied roles but it’s worth mentioning the extremely able ensemble members Jessica Bennet and Sensei Silab. Bennet and Silab are committed and it’s easy to see they give 100% to their various roles. Both of these actors have a definite grasp on the complex choreography and musical arrangements and they add great value to this production as a whole.
Garrett Turner, who takes on the roles of White rabbit, White Night, and March Hare is a delight to watch as he embodies these very different characters with ease. As the White Night, he has fantastic comedic timing and he is comfortable in his well-placed interactions with the audience. His ability to switch on and off between characters is impressive
Christopher Ramirez takes on the roles of Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and the White Queen, among others and his performance is commendable. He understands his characters and shines as the caring Mr. Dodgson who gets on the level of a young girl and tries to explain the world to her in terms she might understand. He is hilarious as the White Queen, throwing shade that RuPaul himself would be proud of, but also balances out by playing the character seriously and not over the top, exuding a compassion and caring that is required of the role. Vocally, Ramirez does a bang-up job with a smooth, booming baritone voice and shines in featured numbers such as in Milo Green’s “Afraid of Everything.”
David Darrow is a highlight in this production as he tackles the roles of Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, and Humpty Dumpty, among others. The characters are diverse and Darrow portrays each character effortlessly. Not only does he have admirable dramatic chops, this multi-talented performer provides much of the live music in this piece with a guitar and adds great value with a clear bari-tenor voice in numbers such as Jonathan Coulton’s “I Crush Everything,” and Ruth Berthe’s “Golden.” Whether he’s effectively portraying the Cheshire Cat, slinking across the stage, or giving a frantic performance as the high-energy Mad Hatter, or a comical, nerdy take on Humpty Dumpty, Darrow is certainly one to watch in this production.
Markita Prescott takes on the titular role of Alice in this production and gives an absolutely authentic and natural performance, embodying this young girl as she navigates through Wonderland searching for a way to become a queen. Prescott has great chemistry with her fellow ensemble members and really seems to have a great comprehension of her character. She plays Alice with the innocence of a child but the sass of a girl who can take care of herself and the curiosity of a person coming of age. Vocally, Prescott is superb with a strong voice that resonates throughout the theatre in numbers like the driving Emile Sande song “Breathing Underwater” and a more subdued, delicate sound that she uses in the poignant “Golden.” Overall, Prescott gives a strong, confident performance that pulls the piece together.
The definite standout in this production, hands down, is Patrice Covington as the Red Queen. Though she gives great turns in roles such as the Dormouse and Tweedle Dee, she shines brighly and intensely as the Red Queen. She steals the show during her featured number, the high-energy, upbeat Demi Lovoto tune “Confident”and that’s exactly what she exudes in her performance. The balance of elegance and diva-ness she brings to the role is on point and makes for an authentic portrayal of a tyrannical queen. Covington’s vocal performance is powerful and seemingly effortless as she wails her number with confidence, as the song suggests, and her own flare of showmanship that is second to none. I’ll be following this actresses career and am looking forward to seeing her onstage in the future.
Final thought…Lookingglass Alice is a modern, funky, and refreshing look at a very old, familiar story. The performances of this small ensemble playing various roles are focused and engaging, breathing new life and ideas into the well-known piece. The music that has been added and the arrangements of those songs give the impression that these tunes were written for this piece because they fit so well and help progress the story line. Overall, it’s a fun show to experience and whether you’re familiar with little Alice and her adventures in Wonderland or a newbie to her journeys, you will not be disappointed with this production and it’s energy. Get your tickets now as this is not one production you want to miss this season.
This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s production of Lookingglass Alice… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Lookingglass Alice will play through December 31 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410.332.0033 or purchase them online.
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By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy