ALICE IN LALA LAND
REVIEW: THE STORY OF ALICE
BY RYAN M. LUÉVANO
Lewis Carroll’s 1865 story Alice in Wonderland remains his most popular tale, and has received many film, television and stage adaptations, so many that the basic story itself is now worn-out and pedestrian. It was first presented as a musical at the West End in 1886 and since then is has been the inspiration for many modern musicals including the little known 2007 off-Broadway musical Alice in Wonderland: An Adult Musical Comedy about the sexual awakening of Alice in a trailer park.
And now Michael Cormier (book and lyrics) and Scott Hitzik (music) bring us The Story of Alice, billed as a “modern musical update” and “a contemporary retelling,” fall short of theses claims in the end. What we get instead are fun costumes, interesting set pieces and a stellar cast that are the redeeming qualities of this story that has neither the history of the 1886 version or the sexual appeal of the 2007 version.
Director Gary Lee Reed takes everything he’s given within the material and makes a cohesive and engaging piece. Reed brings to the fore the zany and camp elements in the everything he has at his disposal. The costumes by Mylette Nora are virbrant and whimsical, and the sets/projections by Yee Eun Nam are kaleidoscopic of moving shapes and colors all fully transporting us in Wonderland.
Alice (Jessamyn Arnstein) is everything we want in an Alice—sweet, naïve, curious and tenacious. Arntein’s satisfying voice is showcased in the songs “Stand up and Fight” and “Only A Dream,” offering two of the best musical moments in the show. The Queen (Emily King Brown) is vivacious and captivating, with every entrance Brown commands the stage in the best way. Brown’s embodies the Queen’s lunacy in everything she does and she’s got biggest voice in the show. Another one of the most entertaining characters is the White Rabbit (Justin W. Yu.) from his first high-spirited entrance he amuses and delights—Yu’s strong voice is finally showcased in “I Run,” and the white bunny can dance too, in “Mad Today” we see Yu’s alethic dance abilities.
Overall the most well known elements of this story are intact with the addition of a two scenes in the present-day with two teenage girls, one of which is Alice who is struggling with growing up. The book by Cormier takes all the wit out of the Carroll’s original story and instead leaves his characters left to wander from scene to scene without direction, often obscuring the most fundamental points in this well-known tale. The lyrics follow suit adding nothing to the drama or characters development—predictable rhymes, and nonsensical messages. The music by Hitzik is unfocused and bland—we get renaissance sounds, pseudo-pop moments, waltzes, and childlike melodies strewn about.
The Story of Alice is a “musical de LaLa Land,” that is, a new Los Angeles musical with a story with songs inserted throughout, unknowingly abandoning the desiderata of musical theater storytelling that goes back to the Golden Age of Broadway.
WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC DIRECTOR?
Music director Nick Petrillo, who also wrote the orchestrations for the show, diligently and adeptly, leads the four-piece band and cast in this original musical. He thoroughly prepared the cast who sound like they have been singing the new music for months.
As is, The Story of Alice is likely a good show for children with its intriguing visual elements, delightful cast and songs that offer little to think about. This new musical runs at The Matrix Theatre until May 29th, for tickets and more information visit: www.matrixtheatre.com.