Reviewed by Shelly L. Hoffman
To see a show on the now underutilized Bower stage is a treat in itself, but Flint Youth Theatre doled out a big bag of eye candy Friday night with its deliciously vibrant production of Sharon Holland’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved children’s book Alice in Wonderland. It is a cleverly staged romp through this classic tale of the girl who falls down a rabbit hole, drinks a shrinking potion to fit through a very small door, and encounters many curious inhabitants of a strange universe.
Director Samuel J. Richardson’s cast, composed of many youngsters and anchored by some veteran adult actors, perform at a frenetic pace creating incredible energy and a great deal of fun. Sometimes, though, this works to the detriment of the show, as it became difficult, at this clip, to discern, at times, what some of the youth were actually saying.
Elsa Harchick assumes a commanding presence as the Narrator. In addition to her vital role of keeping the thread of the story moving, she serves a more utilitarian purpose as well, delivering an expertly rehearsed curtain speech, which blends nicely into the start of the show, and guiding traffic during scene shifts.
Kate Spademan exudes joy and confidence as she portrays a bewildered Alice. Her intelligibility, though, is a victim of the fast-paced dialogue; much of what she was saying was garbled and lost.
Alice is guided to Wonderland by the White Rabbit, played with great physicality by Matt Coggins. There’s no hookah-smoking caterpillar here but, rather, a rainbow clad one who blows bubbles to relax. Layla Meillier handles this role with aplomb, while Enrique J. Vargas is clear and strong (Dare we say “eggscellent?”) as the ill-fated Humpty Dumpty.
The tea party is visually stimulating and made all the better by William Irwin’s presence as the bombastic and pleasingly comical Mad Hatter. Irwin pulls double-duty and appears later as the White Knight. He possesses perfect comic timing and sports separate but equally outrageous mustaches for each role. As the White Knight, though, he becomes touchingly human and he and Alice share a very sweet scene. The White Knight implores Alice to remember him and she notes she may remember him best of all. We suspect audiences may as well.
The shrill Queen of Hearts (Deirdre S. Baker) drolly orders a multitude of beheadings while the King of Hearts (Mark Gmazel) presides over court. Gmazel is simply hilarious and creates an indelible impression as the lisping and posturing King. The courtroom scene, as a whole, is a highlight.
Richardson has assembled an outstanding technical team to help bring these memorable characters to life. Adam Dill’s costumes and Andrew Layton’s scenic design create a wonderfully cohesive and whimsical motif. While the set pieces are spartan and include many cardboard-like cutouts, each is smoothly moved in and out and used to great advantage. The proscenium arch façade is a particularly nice touch. The costumes, with an eclectic mix of patterns, perfectly capture each of the characters and subtly suggest the traits of some of the animals portrayed.
Sadly, Thursday’s show was plagued by sound problems (caused by a seemingly needless microphone on the Narrator) that we hope will be sorted out for the remainder of the run. All in all, though, this is a delightful production that is certain to bring smiles and laughter to both the young and the young at heart.
Alice in Wonderland runs this Friday (7:30 pm), Saturday (2:30 pm and 7:30 pm), and Sunday (2:30 pm), as well as Thursday, August 14 (2:30 pm), August 15 (2:30 pm and 7:30 pm), August 16 (2:30 pm and 7:30 pm), and August 17th (2:30 pm). For tickets, which range from $12 – $18, call 810-237-1530. Performances take place at Flint Youth Theatre’s Bower Theatre in Flint’s Cultural Center.