JCC's Wonderland! Not Just For Kids

The set up: Don't tell anyone that I had a good time at a musical for children, but the truth is I did - and so will you. The courageous Dionysus Theatre has mounted a production of Wonderland! The Misadventures of a Girl Named Alice, and it ranges from tacky to professional with a lot of stops in between.

The execution: The professional part is due in large part to Erika Brunson, who plays the Red Queen and Tweedle-Dum to a fare-thee well, has great comic timing, and moves with expressive grace. Less experienced but wonderfully talented Scott Florence is hopeless as the Red King (too young and enthusiastic for a regal air) but he captivates as a train conductor who also sells and takes tickets, and has a nice voice in the musical number Choo Choo - which is also the only lyric after the intro. And he floored me as a defeated red knight - yes, I was the patron who couldn't stop laughing - sorry! And I glimpsed some Ray Bolger moves as well.

Renee Miura nails Tweedle-Dee, and she and Brunson are great as a song-and dance team. Ben Grafton is the talented musical director and does double-duty as Humpty-Dumpty, morphing into a rock star with all the authentic moves, and comes close to stealing the show. Noriann Doguim plays Alice, and she has the requisite looks and youth, but I would have liked a bit more spunk and authority. Una Lau is weak as the White Queen, but comes to life in her downstage song. Joshua Sims dances well and has a good voice - and a deft hand with a magic glove - but his voice can barely be heard over the music.

The choreography is by Cherie Samuel, and much of it is very good indeed, especially Jabberwocky. Given a necessarily limited budget, the costumes by Claremarie Verheyen, are inventive, but range from merely tacky to "you've got to be kidding". I did admire the Dixie Chicken costumes, but wish I hadn't seen the Lion and the Unicorn.

The verdict: This extravaganza has an amateur feel to it in most of the large ensemble numbers, but when the individual artists are given their chance to shine, they deliver compellingly. The book for Wonderland! is by James DeVita and the music by Bill Francoeur, and it is very definitely for adults as well as children. The direction is by Raymond A. Deeb, who must have had his hands full with a large cast and a show that thrives on extensive rehearsals, but his perseverance has created a flawed but nonetheless admirable entertainment with nuggets of gold. Through June 30, Dionysus Theatre at the Jewish Community Center, 5601 S. Braeswood, 713-728-0041.

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Jim Tommaney