"Wonderland: Alice's Rock & Roll Adventure" Cranks Carroll's Classic Up To 11

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Sankofa B. Soleil as Alice and Patrick Blindauer as Cheshire Cat. Photo Credit: Metro Theatre Company

Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure is a hybrid of the traditional Lewis Carroll tale of a young girl trying to make sense of her crazy world and modern rock concert. It doesn’t try to completely emulate the beloved Disney animated film that so many us remember fondly from our youth. With a modest but effective set design and a bevy of jams to give the old standards a kick in the pants, this Metro Theatre Company production turns the volume and the energy up to 11.

Based on the book, music and lyrics by Rachel Rockwell and Michael Mahler, Director Jamie McKittrick has assembled a cool blend of theatre talent and musicians to fill the familiar roles. Our heroine Alice is played by Sankofa B. Soleil, a novice actress but a veteran stage presence as the lead singer of Androbeat. Her experience as a musician no doubt aided her transition into acting, and she was wonderful. My only criticism of her performance was that sometimes she was drowned out by the band, but that may be a sound engineering issue that could be tweaked as the show continues it’s run at the Grandel Theatre, December 2 – 30. Soliel projected the childlike innocence of young Alice, her frustration at having so little control over her life and eventually newfound confidence and maturity when she survives her encounters with The Red Queen and The Jabberwock.

The supporting cast is likewise excellent. Patrick Blindauer was marvelous as the Cheshire Cat, a lot less creepy and much more agreeable than the way Sterling Holloway voiced the animated “Cat Who Wasn’t All There” some 60 years ago. He also rocks a black and white checkerboard-print suit like nobody has since maybe 1983, so kudos for that! Wyatt McCall—like Blindauer a Webster Conservatory graduate-bounds around the stage as the White Rabbit and plays him ever so slightly more sinister than one might expect. He also does double duty as the Mad Hatter, though I always struggle to accept anyone in that role other than Ed Wynn. Shannon Cothran, a St. Louis Theatre Circle nominee for Dogfight at Stray Dog, brings the Caterpillar to life. She does a fine job singing, particularly as one of the “Red” Roses alongside Alice Revé Like, one of my favorite numbers in the show. I wish the program listed the songs because know there were other examples, especially for Soleil, where the music really soared. Erika Flowers-Roberts, more often associated with Shakespearian productions in St. Louis, Plays Tweedle Dee. Syrhea Conaway voices the Jabberwock while showing off her multi-instrumental talents. Jason Moore, one of St. Louis’ premier percussionists, keeps the rhythm strong throughout, providing a rock-solid foundation for Music Director Lamar Harris’ arrangements.

Most of the cast plays multiple roles, but none stands as tall—literally—as Omega Jones. He’s a fairly tall fellow already, but as the Red Queen he hits the stage in boots with platform soles that would make Gene Simmons smile. If you’ve never had the pleasure to watch Jones perform, take a break from the commercialization of the holidays and check him out in Wonderland. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone better suited to be the Red Queen, and his vocal range is simply amazing. He also has tremendous chemistry with Soleil—the audience was laughing throughout the “flamingo croquette” scene.

The set is mostly open space for the actors to sing, dance and explore. The backdrop usually looks like overly exaggerated Marshal Amplifiers, but these transform into much smaller pop-up locales for the Caterpillar’s smoking room or the Hatter’s tearoom as needed. It conveys the rock concert vibe while hiding small stations for storytelling. Scenic Designer Cameron Tesson did a great job with the set, and Kylee Loera’s lighting queues must be quite daunting but she nailed it.

There’s a lot to like in Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure, but I couldn’t help but notice that the younger members of the audience, at least at the performance I attended, were generally not very into it. Their parents were much more into it, and as the show runs about 85 minutes with no intermission the kids began to fidget and beg to turn on their electronic devices. The production is certainly all-ages friendly, but the music gets a little dark and spooky now and then, and at other times it’s just very loud. Perhaps Sound Designer Rusty Wandall will adjust it so that the players, all of whom play at least one instrument in the show, don’t blow you back in your seat or, most importantly, drown out their lead actress’ lovely voice.

For more information on tickets and show times, please visit Metroplays.org.   

Grade: 
4.0 / 5.0