It’s not the first live show the Aurora Fox has presented during the pandy, but it’s certainly the biggest, loudest and brightest. With Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure, the creative team at the Fox is signaling that, yes, we’re back and ready to go.
I walked out of this show thinking, above all things, that this was one of the best ensemble casts I’ve seen in some time (covid notwithstanding). Director Helen R. Murray has assembled what amounts to a near-perfect group of theatre artists to breathe new life into this well-worn tale, and she’s got an A-team behind her with musical direction by David Nehls and choreography by Terrell Davis.
As the title implies, this musical is propelled by a rock soundtrack performed by all members of the cast, with keyboards (David Nehls) and drums (Keith Ewer) upstage. As Alice, Darrow Klein is the only cast member playing just one character, and she makes the most of it. While she picks up a guitar now and again, the 17-year-old Fairview High senior is focused on moving Alice from bewildered rabbit-hole descender to fully formed “Queen of Wonderland.” She’s a joy to watch, a young but already quite seasoned actor very comfortable at center stage and possessed of a strong singing voice.
Anna High as The Red Queen/Photo: Gail Marie Bransteitter
Larger than life she has to be, since the cast surrounding her is teeming with talent as they take on a variety of roles. Anna High, for one, delivers a show-stopper as the Red Queen — as imposing a figure who’s ever bellowed “Off with his head!” and decked out in a crazy-ass costume that looks like a truckful of crepe paper collided with a tomato farm. (Big shout-out to Nicole Harrison, whose costume designs are fantastic throughout.)
Damon Guerrasio has a few plum roles as the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter and Tweedle Dee. (He also plays bass.) Frenetic energy is his calling card as he flies about the stage adding to the overall confusion that is the Wonderland backdrop. As Cheshire Cat, Elton Tanega is similarly high-energy alongside Guerrasio, and with the addition of guitarist Aaron Szindler (King of Hearts, Tweedle Dum), the trio provides much of the wack-a-doo action surrounding Alice.
Katie Jackson plays the fiddle, but she also does fun turns as the unicorn and the caterpillar. Portrayed as an om-droning hippy with a mean streak, Jackson’s caterpillar somewhat epitomizes the simmering treachery beneath the surface in Wonderland.
Stalked by the voice of the Jabberwocky – a stand-in for her own fears and misgivings – Klein sings, stamps and plows her way through the show, emerging on the other side with guitar triumphantly hoisted.
At the Mad Hatter’s part, l-r: Aaron Szindler, Elton Tanega, Darrow Klein and Damon Guerrasio/Photo: Gail Marie Bransteitter
As Murray writes in her program notes, it’s worth questioning why the Alice in Wonderland story is worth revisiting. I’ve tended to think of it alongside Peter Pan as something that’s been done to death six ways from Sunday. But Alice has a bit more to it, as Murray suggests, and its themes of chaos, control, peril and social acceptance seem particularly poignant as we crawl through the mud of the early ’20s.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the other strong behind-the-scenes work that helps propels this show stand out. The set design by Brandon Philip Case makes the most of the Fox’s large stage, with set pieces that range from phantasmagorical mushrooms to the enormous “jump-through” clock that commands up-center stage. He also created something of a race track around the set, so the actors can make entrances and exits — at high speed — from just about anywhere.
The lighting design by Brett Maughan is an ideal complement. Working in mostly dark tones, Maughan manages to steer our attention where it needs to be with a subtle hand. And while the Fox isn’t the greatest acoustical venue around, Curt Behm’s sound design is able to even things out well enough that the singing voices never get eclipsed by the music.
Katie Jackson as the Caterpillar alongside Aaron Szindler/Photo: Gail Marie Bransteitter
This show premiered in 2015. Adapted from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, the book is by Rachel Rockwell with music by Michael Mahler and lyrics by both of them. The familiar story is told through a variety of musical numbers with little dialogue between them. The Fox production is about 90 minutes with no intermission.
What: ‘Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure’ Where: The Aurora Fox When: Through July 3 Director: Helen R. Murray Music director: David Nehls Choreographer: Terrell Davis Featuring: Damon Guerrasio, Anna High, Katie Jackson, Aaron Szindler, Elton Tanega And starring Darrow Klein as Alice