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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Wonderland: Alice's Rock & Roll Adventure
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Oliver!, Hir, The Producers, That Irving Berlin Thing and No Time for Sergeants

Katie McFadzen, Kyle Sorrell, Michelle Chin,
and Lauren McKay

Photo by Tim Trumble
Childsplay continually produces some of the most imaginative and entertaining theatrical productions for children of all ages in the Valley, and their latest endeavor, Wonderland: Alice's Rock & Roll Adventure, is no exception. This pop/rock update on Lewis Carroll's famous story is a fun, refreshing and upbeat journey down the rabbit hole with a cast who also expertly make up the show's band and with creative elements that are nothing short of sublime.

The plot of Rachel Rockwell's adaptation will be familiar to fans of the book. Alice, 7 ½ years old, is bored and desperately wishes for something to happen, singing in her haunting solo song "Lazy Day" that "nothing ever happens to me." So she follows the White Rabbit down his rabbit hole and through her adventures gets advice, both good and bad, from the familiar crazy characters in the book, including the Mad Hatter, Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat, and the Queen of Hearts.

Michael Mahler's smart, varied score features plenty of upbeat, toe-tapping tunes. Rockwell's dialogue and Rockwell and Mahler's fun and clever lyrics deliver some important lessons, including that it's ok to be different, to believe in the impossible, and that finding who you truly are makes you strong, without being preachy.

The cast comprises many Childsplay regulars, including Michelle Chin as Alice, who expertly evokes the imaginative, curious tyke perfectly; Kyle Sorrell as a charming and somewhat endearing White Rabbit; and Kate McFadzen, who makes for a zany Mad Hatter. Also, Osiris Cuen and Tommy Strawser play numerous parts and provide nice elements of charm and whimsy to a Unicorn and the Caterpillar, while Cullen Law is a deliciously delightful Cheshire Cat, and Marshall Vosler plays a few smaller parts with ease. Lauren McKay makes a most auspicious Childsplay debut as the very intimidating Red Queen.

Director Anthony Runfola keeps a frenzied and frantic pace throughout, which helps keep the 80-minute show moving. Robbie Harper provides some fun and lively choreography. Music director Alan Ruch has done an exceptional job, considering the cast provides the musical accompaniment, with McKay, Law and Sorrell especially impressive with their guitar skills. The creative aspects play off the weird and abstract style of the book with bright, psychedelic costumes from Connie Furr Soloman, fantasy inspired wigs from Kate Mammana, Jeff A. Davis' sumptuous lighting, and Daniel Cariño's animated projections all playing out on Aaron Jackson's fantastical set.

Unlike some previous Childsplay productions like The Yellow Boat that contained deep emotional elements and moving stories, Wonderland: Alice's Rock & Roll Adventure instead plays up the fun aspects of life while also slightly touching upon a few important things to learn without being overly sentimental. A lyric in the opening number states, "Take a permanent vacation from the boring and the bland, it's much nicer to be here in Wonderland." I couldn't agree more, as Wonderland: Alice's Rock & Roll Adventure is a fun respite from the ordinary.

Wonderland: Alice's Rock & Roll Adventure at Childsplay runs through May 21st, 2017 at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe, with performances on Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets are on sale at or at the Tempe Center for the Arts Box Office (480) 350-2822 (ext. 0).

Book and Lyrics by Rachel Rockwell
Music and Lyrics by Michael Mahler
Director: Anthony Runfola
Music Direction: Alan Ruch
Choreography: Robbie Harper
Scenic Design: Aaron Jackson
Costume Design: Connie Furr Soloman
Wig Design: Kate Mammana
Lighting Design: Jeff A. Davis
Projection Design: Daniel Cariño
Sound Design: Christopher Neumeyer
Stage Manager: Sarah G. Chanis

Alice/Piano/Drums: Michelle Chin
Lorina/Bianca/Unicorn/Percussion: Osiris Cuen
Cheshire Cat/Felicite/Guitar/Violin/Percussion: Cullen Law
Mad Hatter/Seven/Percussion: Katie McFadzen
March Hare/Red Queen/Bass/Guitar: Lauren McKay
White Rabbit/Tweedle Dee/Guitar: Kyle Sorrell
Caterpillar/Tweedle Dum/Four/Keyboard/Guitar: Tommy Strawser
Dinah/Dormouse/Red King/Keyboard/Guitar: Marshall Vosler
Drums/Percussion/Didgeridoo: Danielle Moreau

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