REVIEW: “The Alice Experience”—Rose Center Theater, Westminster

Updated: Nov 13

“As Merry as a Marche Hare!”

NOVEMBER 9, 2020—In an all-new reworked staging of Tim Nelson’s world-renowned musical, “Alice in Wonderland,” Rose Center Theater in Westminster presents a succinct and fantastical reimagining called “The Alice Experience”—a fun and safe way for the entire family to enjoy live entertainment this weekend. Adapted and downsized to adhere to safety protocol, Director Nelson’s newest adaptation once again sends the inquisitive twelve year old down, down, down the rabbit hole on another inquisitive trip to find the time-cautious white rabbit, deep into an alternate universe in which fanciful figures are transformed into far-out off-beat equivalents.


An RCT Musical Theater Rose Kids Series Production based on the books by Lewis Carroll, with book, music and original lyrics by Tim Nelson, the musical clocks in just under an hour and presents four distinct Alices, each debuting twenty minutes apart, with the show simultaneously playing in different areas of the theater depending upon which group you are in.


Leading at 2pm is Olivia Aniceto (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Gypsy”), at 2:20 Charity Bielicki (“Peter Pan,” “Spamalot”), 2:40 Rylie Herbel (“The Wizard of Oz,” “Annie”) and 3pm Sarah Hentges (“Cinderella,” “Sound of Music”).“The Alice Experience,” which opened last Sunday, November 8th, and with final performances on the 14th and 15th, features small groups of audience members who accompany Alice on an excursion through the theater and grounds of Rose Center, meeting new friends at each turn.

This veritable buffet of sensual delight with its wonderfully engaging characters brings the classic story quite literally to life. The success of Mr. Nelson's "Alice in Wonderland" has been evident for almost two decades, but with the emergence of the global pandemic, a new makeover was called for in order to keep Alice alive and well. In this remarkably synced program, ushers lead small groups into several exactly timed scenes throughout the theater, from ball room to lobby to the Queen’s croquet garden.


Basically, compiled as a series of non-sequitur, immersive vignettes, it’s a derivative of the main musical, yet 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 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.”


Christina Biardi’s vivid costumes are showy, splashy and eye-catching, and Director Nelson's tunes are at their best: imaginative, colorful and memorable. Director Nelson is also the Musical Director, and Assistant Director is Vincent Aniceto. Choreography is by Olivia Aniceto and Rylie Herbel; Technical Director, Set Design & Lighting Design is by Chris Caputo. Props are by Trish Merrill. The Experience Guides are Vincent Aniceto, Jeffrey Johns, Carly Johnston, Mary Murphy-Nelson, Cat Sacksteder and Sharon Selig. Marketing is performed by Ryan Salazar and Program Design/Company Manager is Sherre Titus.


As every enthusiast of Lewis Carroll's unflappable young heroine knows, young Alice’s tumble down that enchanted rabbit hole led 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, infusing the picaresque narrative with emotional potency. In fact, everything is quite upside-down and backwards in a tangled, surreal world.


And when Tim Nelson transformed “Alice in Wonderland” into a sparky, masterfully mystical (if somewhat bonkers) adaptation back in 1997, it was always sure to put you in a glad-handering mood; the production has been staged around the world by now, including England, Scotland, Belgium, Germany, China and Canada. The play, enlivened considerably by Director Nelson’s inventive music and lyrics, attempts to retain Carroll’s riddling dialogue.

A few riddling examples are White Rabbit’s bluesy “The Backwards Song,” which features Ms. Aniceto, along with Jaedynn Latter as the likable Rabbit, giving it plenty of kick and snap, and “Walking Around,” a lively number performed by Alice and three colorful flowers, Kaia Fister (“Beauty and the Beast”), Lily Horns (“Gypsy,” “Beauty and the Beast”), and Cora Sjorgren (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Sweeney Todd”). “Everyone Is Mad,” a real cat and mouse number, was a favorite with the crowd and spotlighted both Aniceto sisters with Sofia performing agilely as Cheshire Cat.


“The Song of ‘M,’ ” a four-part round at the Tea Party in the theater lobby, featuring the Dormouse (Gracie Hill, “The Wizard of Oz,” “Side Show”), Mad Hatter (Jack Borenstein, “Beauty and the Beast,” “Sweeney Todd”) and the Marche Hare (Drew Dela Llana, “Sister Act,” “Sweeney Todd”) along with Ms. Aniceto’s Alice, was also clever and sent more than one showgoer humming out the door later.


Meanwhile, the group is “shuffled” off to outside the Queen’s castle (which is actually in the auditorium) where we find a few of the Queen’s court cards attempting to correct their fatal mistake of planting the wrong color roses by now painting those very roses in her blooming garden bright red. Breaking out in song and dance with Alice are Kyler Naef (“Wonderful Life,” “Gypsy”), Hannah Robert (a junior at Academy for the Performing Arts) and Sean Kato (“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” “Sweeney Todd”) as Ace, Two and Three of Clubs respectively, with the catchy, “I’ll Always Be There.”


The clever lyrics are supplemented with great harmony and camaraderie, even when the “chips” are down. This leads directly into the well-anticipated croquet scene (because-what’s Alice without the croquet scene?) as the animated Payton Moore (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella”) dominates the next waggish zinger duet with the King, aptly entitled, “The Croquet Song,” playing it to the hilt and bowling you over with its energy and sheer volume. Seth Christ (“You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Cinderella”), as the submissive King, had some very clever lines toward the end of the scene as well.


By the time it was over, my mind was doing cartwheels, but through it all, Ms. Aniceto’s Alice remains constant: a presumptuous, big-eyed girl who views Wonderland’s eccentricities with a critical eye, but who is nonetheless willing to play along with the nonsense. After all, as she points out to her young audience in the show’s opening tune and reprise, she’s the one who’s in control, because with her own vivid imagination at play—it’s all “In My Mind.”


Truth be told, maybe the best way to really appreciate “The Alice Experience” 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.


Only two more performances remain for "The Alice Experience" at Rose Center Theater: Saturday November 14 at starting at 7PM and Sunday November 15 at starting at 2PM. Tickets are $12 and $15 each. Social distancing applies and masks are required. Please contact RCT directly at www.rosecentertheater.com/events to purchase tickets.


Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report

 © 2020 by KDaniels 

Chris Daniels, Arts Reviewer

The Show Report