Review: Curiouser about 'Alice in Wonderland'
This year, the Rep Theater for Young Audiences (or the Rep Children's Theater) continues its 20-year strong tradition by presenting a musical theater adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic 1865 novel, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."
This particular adaptation of the novel, now entitled "Alice in Wonderland," had book and lyrics by Jim Eiler, with music also by Jim Eiler and Jeanne Bargy.
There is not much of a plot to speak of here. Of course, we are all familiar with Alice who fell into a dreamland of odd characters and situations. There have been numerous adaptations in various media, but I am pretty sure we are most familiar with the classic 1951 Disney animated movie of the same title, which is probably what we all have in mind when we think of Alice and her adventures.
Recognizing budget constraints, it will really be a challenge for the director Ms. Joy Virata and her staff to bring all of these fantastic events so well-known to many to convincing life on stage.
Indeed, when the play began with the chorus showed dressed in very bright colored costumes, we knew this will be more of a show memorable for its innovative costumes, make-up and production design than its story or songs. The theme of the set design and the costumes for this Repertory production appeared to have been geometric shapes inspired by Japanese origami. And these were truly spectacular and looked expensive!
It was rather tough going at the start, with the scene of Alice (Daniella Gana) and the White Rabbit (Nacho Tambunting) falling into a very deep rabbit hole seemed to have come short of its intended illusion. I was thinking maybe some wind and echo effects would have been helpful. After that however, with the much anticipated scene of Alice shrinking and growing was very imaginatively done. Now that is thinking outside the box!
While it was filled with some rather inventive visual candy, like the how the Caterpillar was formed by four different people playing separate segments of its body ("When I Become a Butterfly"), Act 1 felt rather dull, not only for me but also for my daughter, who watched with me. Those episodes involving the duck, lorry and dodo birds, and the French mouse, and the Duchess, her cook and her baby, were not too interesting for me.
Act 1 ended with a show in the Palace Music Hall. Again the numbers in this part were more miss than hit for me. I hope they can tweak this part up further in future shows, as this was only their first public performance tonight.
Despite their striking and literally shimmering costumes, the Tweedle Brothers number failed to fly. I personally found the "Walrus and Carpenter" portion not done so well (yet, I hope). The singing was not clear. The costume of the Walrus was not at par with the others. This scene was only saved by those cute oysters.
When it came to Act 2, now we're talking! It actually started with an audience sing-along ("I'm Mad, You're Mad") led by the Cheshire Cat (Nic Campos) and Alice with those LSS-inducing lyrics, "I'm mad. You're mad. We're all mad here!" Not only the kids, but everyone in the audience really followed the hand gestures too! From that sparkling start, Act 2 turned the whole show around for the better.
The next sequence was the iconically hilarious and very colorful Mad Tea Party ("Time for Tea"), with its three insane characters: March Hare (James Stacey), Dormouse (Josh Ramirez) and the Mad Hatter (Joel Trinidad). Some pretty corny jokes were exchanged in this scene, but it was all in the spirit of good delightful fun, with some carefree audience participation as well for the kids. (This gave me the thought that maybe they should have also integrated some audience participation parts to liven up Act 1 as well.)
Following that is the fantastic staging of the croquet games. Again, the colors of the lights enhanced the elaborately rich costumes of the King and Queen of Hearts. This highlight was made more memorable by the brilliant performance of Bituin Escalante as the deranged Queen who wants to cut off the heads of everyone who goes against her ("Off With Your Head"). This scene for me was the highlight of the show.
The rest of Act 2 with the Mock Turtle ("The Turtle Tango") and the final trial scene ("Sit Down, Sit Down") did not let up the momentum, and continued entertaining us up to the inevitable end and curtain call.
Through all of this, the most impressive actor of the show is really the very young Danielle Gana, whom I learned is only 14 years old. Playing Alice, she was on stage for the whole show. She still managed to capture our attention all the time with her verve and stage presence, despite all the strange, colorful and fantastical creatures that shared the stage with her. Mentored by Michael Williams, this 10th grader has a big future ahead of her in the entertainment scene.
Overall, my daughter and I had fun watching "Alice in Wonderland," mostly because of the very vibrant Act 2, which in itself is already worth the admission price. If you just grin and bear with aimless first act, you will be amply rewarded in the most enjoyable second act. I bet you will go out of the theater singing "I'm Mad, You're Mad" on your lips! We confess we did.
Congratulations to Joy Virata for her successful direction of this very challenging piece of children's theater. Congratulations also go to Liesl Batucan for being assistant director, as well as onstage as the Duchess. (It is interesting to know that Ms. Liesl played Alice in the 1997 Rep production.)
The biggest kudos go to the technical staff, particularly set design (by Gino Gonzales), costume design (by Raven Ong), lighting (John Batalla) and make-up (Ely Maalat) -- these are the biggest stars of this show.
Repertory Philippines' "Alice in Wonderland" will run weekends until December 15 at Onstage, Greenbelt 1, Makati City. Do catch it with your young kids!
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."