Updated: Jun 20
JD Theatricals @ Attic Community Theater, a theater that focuses on youth, has produced yet another wonderfully vivid and imaginative piece with their fantastical reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s classic story of “Alice in Wonderland.” Directed by Susan Gerardi, this veritable buffet of sensual delight is no doubt the most well-known children’s story of all time, brought to life by the Attic Juniors in Santa Ana. Adapted and musically developed by Tim Nelson, “Alice in Wonderland” is considered one of the best examples of literary nonsense genre and has been enormously influential in both pop culture and fantasy literature. The musical is now playing from February 22nd through March 3rd on the Attic’s stage, featuring eight performances with delightfully engaging characters.
As every enthusiast of Lewis Carroll's unflappable young heroine knows, 12-year old Alice (Charity Bielicki) takes a tumble down an enchanted rabbit hole to an off-kilter world of dancing flora, punctual rabbits and mad tea parties. Nothing is as it seems in this land where whimsy and wordplay are the order of the day. In fact, everything is quite upside-down and backwards. A derivative of Carroll’s sequel, “Through the Looking Glass,” much of the story is the same. Alice and the flowers still swap gibes in the garden, the likeable and sassy White Rabbit still frets about always running behind, the Mad Hatter is still serving his tea-soaked biscuits and the Queen obliges us with her usual fits of pique.
As Alice tumbles into a dark, distressing, and almost devious world full of oddly familiar miscreants and disturbing realities, she is forced to navigate a tangled, surreal world. During her journey, Alice must transform, much like a caterpillar to a butterfly, from an insecure child into a young woman in spite of the apparent dangers.
Speaking of caterpillars, the young girl in short order meets a vamping and vaping Caterpillar sitting on a mushroom smoking a hookah (Max Espino). Initially a very rude character, yelling at Alice quite often, he speaks in riddles and mostly questions her while blowing smoke in Alice's face. When she asks for his help he ignores her completely, leaving her even more confused as to why she is trapped in Wonderland.
Overall, “Alice in Wonderland” is masterfully mystical and nearly hypnotic - a somewhat bonkers and sparky production combined that’s sure to put you in a glad-handering mood. As stated by creator Tim Nelson, “The nonsense of Alice's adventures has been a favorite of many - young and old. So, with this in mind, I set out to musicalize the story in a way that will send audiences singing out the doors.”
Virtually all roles are played by rotating cast members, and for this attended performance, Cheshire Cat was delightfully portrayed by Gigi Milliken (also Dinah), decked out in vibrant colors and an ear to ear smile. Attic Community Theater also pulls through to supplement the famous fictitious feline’s disappearing act with a dizzy stage projection. Claire Harmsen played the very late, time-racing White Rabbit and Max Smith gave the Mad Hatter a new groove, as he and Alice, along with the Marche Hare (Alaska Stewart) and the Dormouse (Samantha Divis) became the motley crew in a riveting four-part musical chairs rendition of “The Song of M,” sending more than one youngster humming into the lobby at intermission. Augmented with a light mix of jazzy background music along with a bit of the can-can thrown in, the score seemed to capture the pandemonium unfolding on stage perfectly.
While the characters were very familiar, Ms. Bielicki put a new spin on the character of Alice, portraying her in a rather more adventurous, gutsy way than traditionally. Rather than being simply a well-educated, fragile, middle-class child, our Alice bounded about the stage, enlivened considerably by Mr. Nelson’s original and inventive music, going wherever her curiosity took her.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Olivia Draffen and Mackenzie Crary), identical rotund-esque siblings who just want to have fun, spend the song “We’re Two, But One of a Kind” in a bouncy, bumpy playful round of merriment, followed by the White Rabbit, Alice and Cheshire Cat reflecting in a back to back “The Girl in the Dress,” and “Who Am I?” Later, the Queen's guards, segue into a chummy ode to friendship called, "I'll Always Be There."
But the highlight of the show had to be the second-act zinger, “The Croquet Song,” a rock-spiritual-like number featuring the ebullient and animated Ms. Payton Moore playing to the hilt as the “off with your head” bellowing Queen of Hearts. This led right into “The Chase” scene, bowling the audience over with sheer energy and volume, while The Queen, along with The King of Hearts (played by Chase Johnson and Mikey Smith) and all the playing cards and entire company break out in a frenetically chaotic fracas, with Alice managing to stay one step ahead.
By the time it was over, my head was reeling, my mind was doing cartwheels, and it really did feel like we had all become as mad as the Mad Hatter! Somehow, through all that, Alice seemed calm and collected. After all, as she points out to her young audience in the show's opening tune and reprise, she's really the one who's in control – it’s simply her own vivid imagination at the helm. It's all "In My Mind."
The Butterfly Soloist was Ella Gibson, Rose is played by Hannah Roberts, Violet is Leilani Easter, Tiger Lily is Roxy Bonnette, Corn Flower is Quinn Stanley and Tulip is Makenna Cox. The Lead Daisy is Tiffany Easter, French Mouse is Jessa O’Connor, Dodo is Abbey Sherman. His son is Luke Martucci and Duck is Mackinzie Crary.
Alternating roles adeptly handled in other performances featured Ella Gibson as Alice, Aubrey Hoffpauer as the White Rabbit, and Abbey Sherman and Emily Crabb taking turns as Cheshire Cat/Dinah. The Queen of Hearts is also played by Emily Crabb, the King of Hearts is Chase Johnson and Mikey Smith. Ian DeCock additionally plays the Mad Hatter, and Leilani Easter and Samantha Maerov alternates as Dormouse. Tiffany Easter and Eva Hourigan is Marche Hare, Max Smith and Jessica O’Conner portrays Tweedle Dee and Mikey Smith and Chase Johnson stands in as Tweedle Dum. The Caterpillar is also Ian DeCock other days, Butterfly Soloist is Samantha Divis and Charity Bielicki alternatively, and Ryenne Page also plays Rose. Violet is Samantha Maerov and Eliana Gregg other days, Tiger Lily is played also by Olivia Draffen and Payton Netherton is also Corn Flower. Tulip is portrayed also by Charlie Karich and Summer Smith.
Lead Daisy is also played by Chloe Karich and Jessa O’Connor other days, French Mouse is also by Chase Johnson, and Dodo is alternately played by Gigi Milliken and Mikey Smith. Dodo’s Son is also Jack Doyle, Duck is also Roxy Bonnette and the Dance Captains are Payton Moore, Charity Bielicki, Quinn Stanley and Ella Gibson.
Ensemble characters are played by Abby Sherman, Eva Hourigan, Hannah Roberts, Ryenne Page, Samantha Maerov, Elianna Gregg, Olivia Draffen, Mackenzie Crary, Samantha Divis, Claire Harmsen, Jack Doyle, Luke Martucci, Payton Netherton, Quinn Stanley, Makenna Cox, Charlie Karich, Sumer Smith, Avery Crary, Blake Cowdell, Jessica O’Connor, Tiffany Easter, Payton Moore, Ella Gibson, Charity Bielicki, Max Smith, Audrey Hoffpauer, Alaska Stewart, Gigi Milliken, and Emily Crabb.
Director Girardi’s vivid costumes were showy, splashy and eye-catching. Nelson's tunes were at their best: imaginative, colorful and memorable. The Music Director was Nicole Gerardi, Choreographer was Brittany Gerardi and Sound Design was by Sarah Estabrook. Set Design & Lighting by Jim Huffman. Susan and Nicole Gerardi also handled Make Up. Stage Manager was Sarah Estabrook.
There have been numerous adaptations of this remarkable classic tale over the years - some musicals, and some not. This delightful version of “Alice In Wonderland,” however, with book, music, & lyrics by Tim Nelson, with over ten years in the making, is in my estimation the best by far. But then…maybe the only way to really appreciate “Alice in Wonderland” is to surrender to its mad excess, relish in the word play, skewed logic and fantasy, leave the world’s drama outside and simply focus on the travels and travails of an endlessly curious English girl named Alice.
For tickets, go online at: https://attictheater.yapsody.com/
National Youth Arts