OREM — If there is one thing I have learned in nearly a decade of reviewing theatre, it is that the target audience matters. This fact is especially true for productions aimed at young audiences. Children need stage productions that are tailored to their cognitive and emotional developmental levels. But this also makes it difficult for adults to review (and enjoy) productions aimed at kids. Yet, despite the age gap between me and the target audience, I still found SCERA’s Alice in Wonderland a pleasant evening.
Based on the famous Lewis Carroll novel of the same name, Alice in Wonderland is a new musical having its world premiere at the SCERA. With a book by Chase Ramsey and music and lyrics by David Paul Smith, this stage production aimed at young audiences is a brisk, condensed retelling of Alice’s adventures in a fantasyland governed by a twisted form of logic.
In addition to creating the show, Ramsey and Smith also directed this production. The duo ensured that the show never lagged and that the action on stage never lasted longer than the audience’s attention span. I also appreciated how they found different ways to create audience participation in every scene. Whether it was counting, answering questions, or making a promise to themselves, Ramsey and Smith ensured that the young audience never did the same thing twice.
This sort of variety also came through the technical aspects of the production. The costumes (designed by Deborah Bowman) in Wonderland were terrific, and I found myself eagerly anticipating each new scene and the magnificent fabrics, prints, and clever touches that Bowman would add to the production. My favorite costumes were the White Rabbit’s suit (complete with contrasting vest and pants, both with a watch print) and the Red Queen’s gown. The latter had a collar studded with playing cards and a belt made of playing cards that just accented the whimsical feel of the scene.
In the lead role—and almost never leaving the stage—was Kelly Coombs. Her Alice is younger than many portrayals of the character, probably around 5 or 6 years of age. She is an exasperated little girl who is tired of all the rules that she has to follow in school and in life, a fact unmistakably conveyed during the opening number, “Listen.” By the end of the short play, though, Alice had matured and learned a lesson about the importance of rules, and Coombs made it genuinely satisfying to see this character growth.
Although Coombs is talented, the play cannot ride on her talents alone. Thankfully, the supporting ensemble was capable of making the show work. For example, Brandi Washburn as Alice’s principal and as the Red Queen, was suitably authoritative, and it was easy to see why she could intimidate a little girl. I was also pleasantly surprised by Nic Thomas’s performance as the caterpillar in his matter-of-fact rendition of “Caterpillar Rap,” the conclusion of which got the biggest laugh of the evening.
There are some minor quibbles in the production that made it fall short of perfection. The transitions at the end of the tea party and red queen scenes were too abrupt, and the song “The Tweedle Dance” is the weakest song in the brief score. Additionally, the baby voice that Coombs used to create her little girl character grew tiresome before long.
But none of these problems will bother the target audience of children between 2½ and 8 years of age. And there is definitely a lot for parents to love about this production, including the 7 PM start time and 45 minute length, which means that young children can still be home for their usual bed time. The affordable price, positive lesson, energetic acting, and dazzling costumes make Alice in Wonderland a great family outing for anyone in Utah County.