Through October 16
ALICE IN WONDERLAND Festival Theatre/Shaw Festival
By Augustine Warner
Director and adapter Peter Hinton keeps his musical version of “Alice in Wonderland” moving quickly, so fast that the weaknesses of the original story by Lewis Carroll don’t show.
When you read the original book, it’s strange and wondrous and a twisted road through the underworld.
Trying to turn this into a stage show isn’t easy and the Shaw Festival has spent several years shaping what is on the stage.
What makes this production really work is the amazing technology available today.
Once, it was lighting and work like Flying by Foy, familiar to generations from “Peter Pan,” as the boy who never grew up flew over the stage and the audience.
Of course, there were also projected images, long familiar to Shaw audiences.
Now, those projected images are in color and move, far more elaborately than just projecting some film or HDTV onto the back wall, Beth Kates and Ben Chiasson’s computer work.
It’s all really amazing, as are the costumes from William Schmuck on Eo Sharpe’s set, using Kevin Lamotte’s lighting and John Lott’s sound work.
I suspect many stage impresarios will be spending some time in Niagara-on-the-Lake this summer, looking at the potentials available.
I suspect not cheaply.
What Hinton did was create two halves of the show, that summer day in 1865 when Charles Dodgson (Graeme Somerville) joined another Oxford professor and the three daughters of friends for a rowboat trip on the Isis, the local name for a branch of the Thames, here a wonderful stage floor to simulate the river water.
During the trip, ten-year-old Alice Liddell (Tara Rosling), persuaded the math professor to tell him a story and on-the-spot, he invents the story of Wonderland and the inhabitants down the rabbit hole.
It took years for him to turn it into the book Alice wanted and which the world bought and still buys, along with its sequel.
The other half of the intertwined show takes place in Wonderland, using Somerville’s Mad Hatter and Mock Turtle and Kyle Blair’s shift from Reverend Robinson Duckworth in the row boat to being the Duck, the March Hare and the Gryphon (far different from the Canisius College Griffin).
While there are plenty of characters around Christ Church, the Oxford college where Dodgson taught, the amazing work is those same Victorian-era characters and costumes turning into the O’Connell’s Queen of Hearts, Neil Barclay’s Executioner, Patty Jamieson’s Dormouse and Jennifer Phipps’ Cheshire Cat on a screen high above the stage.
It’s all wonderfully staged and sung well, numbers like “A Short Direction to Avoid Detection,” with The Duchess (Donna Belleville), Baby (Andrew Broderick) and the ensemble; “That Poor Hatter’s Very Bad” with the ensemble, Blair, Jamieson and Somerville; “The Lobster Quadrille” with the ensemble, Somerville and Blair.
There is also the royal “Not Guilty, I Declare,” with Alice, the King of Hearts (Jay Turvey), Queen of Hearts (O’Connell) and Knave of Hearts (Kelly Wong).
The leads do a lot of work and do it well.
As the adapter, Hinton does a strong job of making it all work, meshing the humans on stage with the computers and the projectors and the software.
For spectacle, “Alice in Wonderland” is a great show, as long as you ignore the foggy nature of the story.
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