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On Theater: 'Alice' curiouser and curiouser at Vanguard

September 30, 2010|By Tom Titus
  • Alice (Karah Gravatt) is captivated by the antics of the Mad Hatter (Brandon Arias) as she makes her way through Wonderland in Vanguard University's presentation of "Alice."
Alice (Karah Gravatt) is captivated by the antics of the… (photo by Susie Hudson,…)

When Charles Dodgson spun an adventurous tale to a 10-year-old girl on a boating trip in 1865, making it up as he went along, he hardly could have realized the impact it would have on future generations.

Dodgson embellished the story, published it under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, and "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" was born. A century and a half later, Elizabeth Swados turned it into the musical "Alice," with all of Carroll's absurdities intact.

It's this version that is completing its engagement at Costa Mesa's Vanguard University. And, while it originated in 1865, the story pre-envisions 1965 and such experimental musicals as "Godspell" and "Hair," right down to the funny mushrooms.

"Alice" is replete with nonsensical circumstances, some of them ("The Jabberwock" told in pure gibberish. Yet director Vanda Eggington serves up this creative chaos with style and flourish, and choreographer Stephany Parker (also a cast member) has fashioned some elaborate movement calculated to keep playgoers smiling while scratching their heads.

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The title role could not have been better cast. Karah Gravatt is an animated and adorable Alice, interacting wonderfully with Carroll's eccentricities and rendering the most ridiculous circumstances quite plausible. Because we believe her, we buy the rest of the nonsense.

The Vanguard ensemble — with each performer assigned many characters — is particularly entrancing, with a few individual highlights emerging. The best of these are Reeni Lindblom's rampantly despotic Red Queen and Brandon Arias' manic Mad Hatter. Arias also plays the wordless Jabberwock, dueling Alice to the finish.

Dustin Laemmien and Royen Kent score highly as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, both during the show and prior to the action, admonishing the audience poetically regarding cell phones, candy and exit doors. Kelsi Roberts doubles nicely as the White Rabbit and White Queen, while diminutive Sheila O'Hara shines both as the drowsy Dormouse and a recalcitrant infant. Choreographer Parker has an egg-citing turn as Humpty Dumpty.

Since the story is, by design, nonsensical, some of the sequences are bound to play on too long, placing an additional burden on the cast to render the show appealing. This is accomplished more often than not.

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