Sunday, 17 February 2013

CURIOUS & CURIOUSER: Razzle-dazzle musical Alice delights and amuses

THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM: Cast members doing a number from the show.

Alice: The Musical (Jamaica Junior Theatre) 
Director: Peter Haley 
Cast: Justine Rookwood, Deandra Thomas, Madeline Sharp, and David-Andrew Reid 
Venue: Philip Sherlock Centre, UWI Mona 

The concept of ‘muchness’ – that inner fire that fuels one’s confidence – is at the heart of the Jamaica Junior Theatre’s latest offering, Alice. Though it takes cues from the Tim Burton movie and borrows numbers from Broadway musicals, the JJT’s version (co-authored by Roshane Miller and Samantha Chin-Yee) doesn’t stray too far from the formula of the original children’s classic, resulting in a vivid, vibrant and frequently tuneful production that’s lovely to look at and wonderfully costumed. 

You don’t have to be conversant with the finer details of this plot to know that the story – part whimsical fantasy, part coming-of-age saga – finds Alice returning to the magical world of Underland. This time around, however, she is a teen going on sixteen and plagued by frightful dreams and the blurring of the fine lines between reality and imagination. 

Possessed of an engaging presence and a beautiful singing voice, young Justine Rookwood makes for a convincing Alice, bringing across the mix of wide-eyed fervour and naïveté that essentially defines the character, but particularly when she enters Underland and encounters a cache of strange-interesting creatures and characters determined to make her their heroine. 

We meet the insane Mad Hatter (Andrew Bailey), the bumbling pair of Tweedle Dee (Ria-Elena Williams) and Tweedle Dum (Asha Williams), the crafty Cheshire Cat (Ricardo Barrett), the all-knowing Absolom (Paul Henry), the time-conscious White Rabbit (Madeline Sharp), the well-meaning White Queen (Sydni Greaves) and the evil Red Queen (Deandra Thomas), who reigns with an iron fist and the diva ’tude to match. David Andrew Reid is Alice’s doting father, Charles Kingsley, while Marissa Foote plays the overattentive mom. 

As he’s done in the past, Peter Haley proves he’s a smart director of young talents, as he gets the enormous cast of tweens and teenagers to bring the story to razzle-dazzle life, even when the production mildly suffers from moments of enthusiasm overload and a few scenes (including the big Jabberwocky showdown) that come off as unintentionally amusing. 

Still, with Alice the Jamaica Junior Theatre has crafted a hyperkinetic show marked by a visceral mis-en-scene, terrific costume design, and some well-choreographed musical numbers that occasionally burst with teen-power exuberance. The showstopping “Welcome to Wonderland” is a particularly fine example. If that tune doesn’t symbolize the epitome of muchness, then I really don’t know what muchness is. Tyrone’s Verdict: B

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