Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Story of Alice – Book & Lyrics by Michael Cormier, Music by Scott Hiltzik


By Joe Straw

“…when suddenly a white rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her. “ – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland

First of all, right off the blinded bat, there is exceptional talent in The Story of Alice, Book & Lyrics by Michael Cormier, with the music by Scott Hiltzik, through May 29th, 2016 at The Matrix Theatre.

Emily King Brown, Nikki D’Amico, Nic Hodges, Emily Barnett, and Justin W. Yu are four of the reasons why you should run to see this production!

Not four you say! Five? Well in that case, if you must count, choose any one or all of the five to nourish your hearty theatrical flavorings.

Mylette Nora, Costume Designer, brought a marvelous life to this production, giving each character, beyond the rabbit hole, a very specific look. I have more to say on the look of Alice, later.  

Oh my! Caveat! Don’t read any further!  I must say some things. I know, sometimes one can be very naughty, the naughty things one says.  But things must be said, for the record, in judgment of said musical. Hold your boos, hiss, or applause until the very end. And, take a moment to unwrap your candies.

And while you are immersed in you’re reading, on whatever magical reading devices you may have, avoid stepping on the rolling hedgehogs. They make an awful racket!

Something was indeed missing in this version of The Story of Alice; perhaps it was the mise, mise, mise en scéne, and the peculiarity and slightly disturbing interactions among the highly identifiable characters from Lewis Carrolls’ Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, or Through the Looking Glass. 

But hold your reference to those two books! The Story of Alice, a musical with a book, or a book with music must stand on its tiny little feet. To understand completely, drink the correct potion and don’t shed a salty tear.

Still, something was missing, missing, missing - something one couldn’t quite place one’s finger on.  And perhaps I’m making too much of muchness.

So what in the blue blazes was wrong? Well, not wrong, wrong.  Slightly wrong. Minutely wrong. Okay, they were like slight disagreeable moments arranged on a salty platter that needed additional seasoning.    

From the beginning, that’s where we must start. The Cheshire Cat (Santino Tomasetti) pretended to play a lute and he didn’t have a really really, really big smile.  Charming one would say, smirking others would say, but definitely not a big smile. Could that have made a difference?

Maybe. The Cheshire Cat sets us off on a course, not strangely enough, but the book by Michael Cormier does not make it specifically mystical enough, nonsensical enough, doesn’t paint enough of a absurd picture, does not guide us to our next adventure which is of the two sisters. The light of his smile as he disappears does not create a mysterious relationship or set a mood. So, for the sake of clarity, place the said Cheshire Cat in the middle of the two girls as he mysteriously disappears into the said forest, or fog, or whatever as the sisters continue on with their lives.  

A stunning older sister Simone (Emily Barnett) smokes a vape pipe (the Blue Caterpillar).  She is older and wiser, and makes fun of her petulant sister, Alice (Jessamyn Arnstein).  No she won’t give her a drag on the pipe or hang out with her, just as all horrid big sisters won’t do, but she is curious about Alice’s mental state.  

Interesting now that Alice sings the song, If I Had Wings (The Caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly?), a song of wanting to be somewhere else in a happier place.  This song really needs to connect to the relationship with her sister before the White Rabbit (Justin W. Yu) enters the picture.

The dream takes her down the rabbit hole, the last bit of conscious reality before her sleeping mind takes her into a deep, deep, a very deep sleep.

So, so, what am I to make of this show?  For the most part, it is a very enjoyable night of entertainment, with wonderful costumes, a live four-piece orchestra.   Dwight Rivera: Keys 2, Sam Morgan:  Woodwinds/E-Wi, Dave Johnstone: Drums/Percussion highlight the beautiful voices on stage.

Well, let’s highlight.

Emily Barnett, as Simone, does triple duties playing a number of characters, each in their own way, very charming. Barnett is a gorgeous creature and has very appealing look on stage, giving each character their very own brand of uniqueness.  There is a lot to enjoy in this actor’s performance.

Brooke Brewer is fantastic as Weasel.  It is a perfect role for her athletic frame, very weasel like as she moves about the stage. Loved the nose and the costume.

Nikki D’Amico was enjoyable from start to finish.  The Dodo character was impeccable fluttering from here to there, with a wave and a wing under her arm.  She also has a very charming voice.  Tweedle Dum was also very funny. It was a joy watching her performance and one relishes her complete characterization of those roles, her remarkable skills, and her wonderful craft.   

Nic Hodges was smarmy as the King, deliciously detestable, and marvelously naughty.  He was also great as Tweedle Dee.  King is naughty, fooling around with the Duchess and cheating on the Queen. Hodges has an incredible voice and he gives it his all in some very funny moments on stage.

Emily King Brown was fantastic as the Queen with the hair that gave her the appearance that she was 14 feet tall!  Brown has an astonishing voice and great comic timing.  The looking glass moments worked perfectly.  Can’t say enough about this actress! She is very, very scrumptious.

Justin W. Yu was the White Rabbit.  The White Rabbit takes some time (pun intended) getting used to running around in circles, claiming he’s late, and avoiding the Queen at all costs for reasons that are not entirely clear.  (Could it be the Queen loves rabbit stew?) This character, although perfectly enjoyable, needs defining, specifically to smooth about the rough edges, about who he is, where he is going, and how all of it ties in to the progression of the play.   

Jolie Adamson is the Mock Turtle who really has to sell the heck out of turtle loving a knave and the reasons that may happen. She is a turtle in love and no one notices anything about or comments how unnatural that may be. Someone has to figure out how this is all going to work. Adamson also plays the Duchess holding the pig and asking for more pepper. (One would have liked to have seen this scene with no less than a thousands sneezes.)  Still, Adamson gave the Duchess a very clear character and some very nice touches.

Jessamyn Arnstein, who has a strong resemblance to Tina Fey, plays Alice.  Arnstein has a lovely voice but it is a character that is not completely developed.  “If I had Wings” is a song that takes her to another land in the way that “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” takes Dorothy to another place. But after the song, we don’t see how she is transported, only that she has.  And as Alice goes down the hole, first and foremost, she should be filled with extreme curiosity.  And that curiosity should play into her fear, gratefulness, and then stubbornness, until she finds the moment, that precise moment of wanting to get home.  The overall objective is to get back home but there is much for Alice to learn before she gets back. Also, while everyone was in a delightful costume, Alice looked like she stepped right off of Melrose. A better costume would give her more character and more time to prink as she defines whom and what she is was, and what she will be. It will also give her the appearance of a girl and someone we can have great sympathy for when she finds herself in a lot of trouble.  

Bradley Cashman plays the Knave and the Mad Hatter.  The Knave must have love oozing out of his ears and the Mad Hatter must be completely mad!  Still, Cashman has some very fine moments in this musical.  

Liam Roberts was fine as the Commander and has a large presence on stage.  One is not really sure how the other soldiers to his side works to create an effective character.   

Santino Tomasetti played the Cheshire Cat and needs more to give the cat clarification, who he is, why he is there, what does he want, and how this all fits into the musical. Mysterious should be the term that best identifies the character. That aside, Tomasetti has a wonderful look on stage.

Gary Lee Reed, the director, did a fine job.  The show needs a grandeur beginning in the way the book jolts the reader. The Cheshire Cat comes off as a common house cat.  The opening should be absurd, nonsensical, and filled with the as much complexity as a disappearing smiling Cheshire Cat brings.  Also, the show would do fine with the elimination of three songs in the first act. The second act ran a little smoother.  One doesn’t know why but I particularly liked the song “Bananas & Cabbage”.  The show really fits the bill for folks less than 15 years, and under it’s present condition, they should find middle schoolers to see the show.  Naytheless, the show has incredible potential but must be fine-tuned to fit both children as well as adults.  The Duchess’ death puts a damper on this show; we must find a way to make it work with the Mock Turtle on stage.   The improvisation beyond the fourth wall probably plays well to middle schoolers, and the improvisational reference to the Mary Tyler Moore Show doesn’t work at all, and doesn’t progress the play.  Little things will only add grand moments to the musical.

Michael Cormier, Book and Lyrics, has a very good feel.  The story lines that work the best are the Duchess and the King, the Queen’s desire to be the best at what she does, and strangely enough, the sisters Alice and Simone and their relationship with each other and their mother (not seen) and the mother’s boyfriends.

A lot of time and effort went into this production.   Other members of the delightful crew are as follows:

Nicholas Petrillo -  Music Director, Arranger
Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners – Producer
Victoria Watson, theatre Planners – Associate Producer
Marjo Majdi – Executive Producer
Cassie Crump – Choreographer who designed some very pleasant numbers for the show.  Those numbers will put a smile on your face.  
Matt Richter – Lighting Designer
Kiff Scholl, ARK Design – Graphic Designer
Katherine S. Hunt – Props Designer
Raul Clayton Staggs – Casting Director
Marissa Drammissi – Production Stage Manager

Run! Run!  And take someone who loves Alice. In fact, dress up and go!

A guest production at The Matrix Theatre
7657 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA  90046

No comments:

Post a Comment