Queen Theatre Takes Us Down the Rabbit-Hole Again with Alice in Wonderland: the Musical

The set-up:

Queen Theatre creates a new version of time-honored classic Alice in Wonderland, this time with some music, and delivered by a cascade of children and a few adults.

The execution:

This version uses film on a large screen to show Alice at home before the rabbit-hole, then we see her at home on stage. While well-done, this prologue slows the opening -- we hardly need an introduction to such a familiar tale. But then the projection eddies into a purple spiral and Alice hurtles down to meet, on stage, the beloved White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Dormouse, Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar and the other familiar characters.

Riley Branning in the lead role of Alice, served the production well, with a professional polish and stage presence. While Alice is necessarily headstrong, the characterization here had her a bit of a brat as well, a result of the writing, not the actor. Carter Shults as the caterpillar carved out a sense of command and power that was fresh and amusing. Aedin Waldorf and Lauren Beaman as the Cheshire cats (two of them here) were fun and interesting in black outfits with glow-in-the-dark stripings. Addy Elliott as the Queen of Hearts had a heartwarming poise and stage presence well beyond her tender nine years. Johann Fitch as the dormouse didn't have much to do, but he did it very well, with an appealing smile.

The White Rabbit (Virginia Mayo) and the Mad Hatter (Scott Florence) were as omnipresent as usual, and carried the narrative; they were pleasant and likable, but failed to find striking individualities -- while energetic, they seemed to lack authority. The Red Queen (Rachel Ross) had a great costume, and wore it well, and the costumes in general, by the director, Katie Harrison, were colorful and varied. There are some songs, not especially memorable, but this is not a musical in the usual sense. The choreography, by Erika Waldorf, is spirited.

The producing company, Queen Theatre, is an educational organization, and the very large cast provides an opportunity for children and young adults to get their feet wet on stage. This production is an admirably ambitious undertaking; the videography by Erika Waldorf is totally professional, and some of the static projections are elegant and beautifully complement the action on stage. Yet there is a ragged quality to switching back-and-forth, though it works very well in showing Alice's temporary growth into a giantess. There is a lot of screeching on stage, and a lot of running in the front row - perhaps not as amusing as intended. The writing and direction are by Katie Harrison, and need tightening, though she marshals scores of children adroitly on the large stage.

This original source, of course, is the 1865 Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, the nom de plume of Charles Dodgson. It was an immediate hit upon publication, has been translated into 97 languages, and has never been out-of-print. A musical stage version was produced in London in 1886, and there have been numerous stage and screen adaptations, and even operas and ballets.

The verdict:

A time-worn classic is given a new take, and should appeal to those who delight in seeing children cavort on stage, though perhaps of less interest to those who prefer more sophisticated theatrical fare.

Alice in Wonderland: the Musical continues through July 14, from Queen Theatre at the HBU Dunham Theatre, 7502 Fondren. For information or ticketing, call 888-695-0888.