riley raymer, drew o’hara, jeremy hutton & tom gordon smith
Yesterday afternoon I joined a jam-packed audience filled with enthralled children at the Cambridge Battery in Point Pleasant Park for Shakespeare By The Sea’s collectively devised production of Alice in Wonderland. It is an entirely original piece of theatre based on the novel by Lewis Carroll that brings together catchy songs, energetic dance moves and a wild assortment of strange and hilarious characters centering on the Queen of Heart’s Jubilee Croquet match. It plays until September 2nd, 2012.
The heart of Alice in Wonderland is in the songs that weave the scenes together. The core of these are sung by a delightful barbershop quartet of punny cards played by musical director and composer Jeremy Hutton, Chris George, Drew O’Hara and Emma Laishram. Their harmonies are gorgeously tight and manage to maintain strong resonance even in the open air of the park. Other stand-out songs include the Opening Number (and its Act II Reprise), the vigorous Caucus Race song and dance and the Off With His Head song sung by the Queen. Riley Raymer, who plays the curious and moral-minded Alice, has a particularly gorgeous singing voice, which adds a Disney-like quality to her ingénue.
The production is filled with hilarious portrayals of a multitude of eccentric characters including Emma Laishram’s narcoleptic dormouse, who has an adorable little voice, Kimberley Cody and Kathryn McCormack’s rapping March Hare and Mad Hatter, Sèbastien Labelle’s agile Cheshire Cat, and Simon Rainville’s beautifully earnest, yet duty-bound White Rabbit. Tom Gordon Smith is over-the-top theatrical bliss as the tyrannical Queen of Hearts, who wants to set the heads of her court rolling unless she always wins definitively at everything. Smith reminded me quite ardently of a young Ross Petty playing the villain in the yearly Christmas Pantomime in Toronto. As a matter of fact, the structure of this show, using a well-known story as the basis for a new adventure, filled with pop culture references, songs and dancing, with at least one female role being played by a man, is quite reminiscent of the Panto. If Ross Petty ever retires, I may have found his replacement!
There are a few scenes that I felt could benefit some clarification or tightening up in this rendition of Alice. For example, I wondered why the caterpillar had two heads and why he was masquerading as the Jabberwocky in Underland. In all, however, director Jesse MacLean keeps the movement constant, makes great use of creative space and imaginative magic, and keeps fun and silliness as the essence of the piece. The children in the audience yesterday afternoon certainly seemed to be having a terrific time and in this case, they are the most important critics.
Alice in Wonderland plays at the Cambridge Battery in Point Pleasant Park on August 30th and September 2nd at 7:00pm and September 1st and September 2nd at 1:00pm. A suggested $15.00 donation can be paid at the door. Bring your own chairs or a blanket or rent a chair for just $2.00!