By Laura Grimes
Yellow buses streamed down the Park Blocks in Portland and unloaded masses of schoolkids. Some wore striped tights and sparkly hair. They bounced along and filed into the Newmark Theatre where they chatted and wiggled until the lights dimmed.
Like the White Rabbit said: “It’s time to rock and roll!”
This is not your mother’s Alice in Wonderland. This is not the Disney version. This isn’t even Lewis Carroll’s classic tale. This is Oregon Children’s Theatre‘s Alice & Wonderland: A Rock Opera.
The show, which opens to the public today, is a mashup of tunes and a meandering series of episodes that doesn’t come with a traditional storyline. Instead, it comes with amped guitars and kicking drums and combines some of the touchstones of Carroll’s 1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (commonly called Alice in Wonderland) with his 1872 book Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.
Alice (Sara Catherine Wheatley with a lovely voice) and White Rabbit (Dave Cole fingering a mean guitar) act as guides through an enchanted land, where one surprise after another turns up. Humpty Dumpty? Magic mushrooms make anything possible.
Jabberwocky never ceases to please with its nonsensical, mind-bending wordplay. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum do a nifty presto-chango and recite The Walrus and the Carpenter.
Red Queen (Alina Ziak) goes vogue and an extremely talented Mock Turtle (Vin Shambry) sings the blues. The head of Caterpillar (Emily Sahler Beleele) belts out a dreamy number, but, in a stroke of staging brilliance, the rest of the body is made up of several people in band hats lined up on rising stairs. A hookah blows bubbles.
“You think the hookah is OK?” director and artistic director Stan Foote wanted to know. It was the opening show on Wednesday morning and he was like a new dad, a lot excited and a little nervous. “It blows bubbles. We tried to make it as vanilla as possible.”
But the lyrics aren’t pure vanilla. “Would you like a little smoke? It’ll make you feel all better.”
Alice & Wonderland will make you feel all better, too, even if the lyrics can be hard to catch and the story can be hard to follow. But that’s just it. It’s not a story, it’s a rock opera. So just sit back and enjoy the ride.
The show runs through Nov. 21.
Read Marty Hughley’s review for The Oregonian here.
ILLUSTRATION: “Alice & Wonderland: A Rock Opera” at Oregon Children’s Theatre. Sara Catherine Wheatley as Alice, Dave Cole as White Rabbit, and Michael Mitchell as Mad Hatter. Photo by Owen Carey.