Reviewed by Stephen Ross
To commemorate forty years of quality live theatre in Clio, Michigan, Clio Cast and Crew has chosen to open its anniversary season with Tim Kelly’s adaptation of the childhood classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Producing classic tales like this can often be quite a feat because these stories have touched our own personal timelines so intimately. Most of us have been forced to grow up and #adultit (as the youngsters say); therefore, in a reality that is dominated by responsibility, we have extremely high expectations of our make-believe. If last night’s performance was any indication, it would seem that Director Kim Norrington was up for the challenge. From the beautifully painted set, to the striking costume design and the brilliant lighting design, this production was one of pure spectacle.
Let’s talk about the incredible painted mural that dominated the set and about the young artist who made it possible. Samantha Beauchamp (Set Painter) is an accomplished young artist who has not yet graduated high school. And I have been told that she spent countless hours perfecting this mural, and even showed up in her Homecoming dress to keep working on it. If that’s not dedication, I’m not sure what is. Regardless, this mural contributed to the spectacle of this show in a major way. Our only complaint about the set was the three-dimensional objects that were protruding from the mural (flowers and such). Because the flowers were so beautifully painted, we thought that these pieces seemed to muddy up a clean, precise mural.
Dennis Swedorski designed the costumes for this ambitious script, and I’m not sure I would want that job. The costumes of this story play a pivotal role in breaking Alice’s conventions of reality. Swedorski clearly made this project his theatrical baby, because his costume design is pure brilliance. Probably the most impressive costume in this production was that of the Duchess. Her elaborate gown and headdress planted us right in the middle of a nursery rhyme. We especially liked the dancing flowers with their blooming headpieces. They were very mystical, and seemed so entirely appropriate for Wonderland. Finally, we absolutely loved the skunk and his mechanical tail. The tail was operated by a string, and swiveled back and forth. This was a small detail, but left a big impression.
Adam Iaquinto designed the lights for this production and they were executed beautifully. We especially liked the lighting of the waterfall. It was a deep blue that glimmered to perfection. It can be hard to pull such a beautiful set and costumes together with lighting, but that didn’t seem to be an issue with this production. Iaquinto is to be commended for his work here.
This production has so many characters it would be nearly impossible to mention every single one, but it should be mentioned that they all worked well together to bring Wonderland alive. However, there are several characters whose performances are worth mentioning.
Playing the title role of Alice is the extremely charismatic Brooklyn Olsey. While Olsey may be a bit (we’ll say) taller than the seven-year old protagonist we have come to expect, her portrayal of Alice and her inevitable identity crisis was done with incredible precision. Olsey’s Alice had the perfect blend of graciousness and entitlement that is so central to Alice’s struggle. We were taken aback by this young lady and her incredible interpretation of this role. You’ll want to keep an eye on this young lady.
The White Rabbit was portrayed by Cassidy Couturier. This is a very important character in Alice’s story because s/he) must distinctly contrast Alice’s well-mannered demeanor. We thought Couturier captured this very well, but was sometimes limited by some awkward blocking. We’d like to have seen a little more frenzy shine through with this character. Still, in the moments when we needed to see this contrast between Alice and the White Rabbit, Couturier’s pompous attitude was executed with acute accuracy and made up for any issues with blocking.
Another important character worth mentioning was the Mock Turtle (Evan Worden). Who is this kid? We loved him. We have never seen such an animated child with such impeccable timing. Worden had the audience in stitches during his “Beautiful Soup” bit. As we were exiting the theatre, we overheard someone saying that he made up his own tune to these lyrics. His singing voice was clear and pure, and what an incredible talent.
What would Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland be without some interesting royals? The Queen of Hearts (Deanna Harcz) symbolizes unadulterated fury while the Red Queen (Dana Usealman) represents a more composed manifestation of that same fury. These two actresses captured this dynamic so appropriately. Usealman’s Red Queen was the perfect combination of coldness and composure, while Harcz’ Queen of Hearts was absolutely terrifying (Harcz is rather incredible in this role). The King of Hearts (Shane Wachowicz) stands as a contrast to the Queen of Hearts, but must also be very childish. Wachowicz fits this bill quite nicely. Between his ridiculous, effeminate lisp and child-like gestures, Wachowicz characterized the subservient King perfectly. The White Queen (Victoria Young) is the disheveled, frenzied character. Young embodied these characteristics completely. Finally, The Duchess (Sandy Turner) is, by the book, an ugly woman. Turner is much too pretty to play this role, but did capture the essence of her character’s grotesque nature quite perfectly. She took on a character voice that reeked of a perfect blend of superiority and phlegm. Turner’s Duchess had the audience rolling on Friday night.
The Mad Hatter (Samantha Beauchamp) represents a certain eccentricity that Alice is unfamiliar with prior to visiting Wonderland. Beauchamp’s portrayal of the Mad Hatter was incredible. Her characterization was completely spot on. (Johnny Depp ain’t got nothing on this young lady). Acting beside the Mad Hatter was the March Hare (Clara Usealman) and the Dormouse (Lila Marcotte). These two young ladies also had the audience rolling between Usealman’s frantic running around the stage and Marcotte’s narcolepsy.
There were several cameo roles worth mentioning. Tweedledee (Audreanna Symon) and Tweedledum (Shirley Symon) worked very well together and their reflective gestures were hilarious. Brandon Rice’s Humpty Dumpty was scornful, with just the right amount of coldness. The Cheshire Cat (Brianna McDonald) is a mischievous cat that Alice meets in Wonderland. Playing the role of this cat demands very fluid movements. Once again, here was another example of how awkward blocking diminished the impact of some dynamic characters. We wish Norrington had explored some more appropriate movements for this character. Blocking aside, McDonald’s characterization of the Cheshire cat was very well executed. Finally, The Knight (Dennis Spence Jr.) had the house roaring while he galloped around on a Stick Dragon. His timing was impeccable, and his characterization was spot on.
Norrington has assembled an incredible troupe of actors. We only wish that she had chosen to move them a little more appropriately. Throughout the production, blocking and movement seemed to be a recurring issue. Additionally, we suspected that the show was a little under-rehearsed as the director kept yelling out direction from the audience. This was distracting at times, but didn’t seem to be too frequent.
All in all, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an incredible piece of youth theatre. It continues through October 30th at Clio Cast and Crew’s Theatre 57. Tickets are available online at www.cliocastandcrew.com or by phone at 810.687.2588. Friday and Saturday Performances are at 7:30pm and Sunday performances are at 2:30pm.