Friday, May 23, 2008

Musical goes on delightful trip down rabbit hole

Published in The News Tribune, May 23, 2008

There are only two more performances of “Alice in Wonderland” at Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater, an offshoot of Tacoma Musical Playhouse. Shows are Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Plus, there is a special tea party luncheon with the performers at noon Saturday. Tickets for the tea party are sold separately, and seating is limited.

Don’t confuse this with a children’s workshop production. This is professional-level theater with adult performers playing for the enjoyment of children. Some of the better-known actors in the South Sound can be seen in this show, including Micheal O’Hara and Scott Polovitch-Davis, both of whom were terrific in the recent run of “Miss Saigon” at Tacoma Musical Playhouse. (Incidentally, two other casts members, Jon Huntsman and Katie Peters, also performed in “Miss Saigon” and had to rehearse this show at the same time.)

This musical adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic is a sweet and gentle version of the story of Alice’s trip down the rabbit hole. Sets are sparse, yet nicely done, a theme carried to the music. Instead of the usual full orchestra at Tacoma Musical Playhouse there is a single keyboard accompanist providing the music. Musical director Debbie Hushagen and actress Katie Peters (who alternates in the role of Alice) alternate on the keyboard. On the day I attended, Peters was playing Alice and Hushagen was on piano.

Credit resident costume designer Joan Schlegel and Marijo Hening for the great costumes. Particularly outstanding are the colorfully feathered bird costumes for Duck, Lory and Dodo, whose fluttery movements are accentuated by the herky-jerky way they move around the stage. The traditional playing card costumes of the royal court are also terrific, though not unique.

I only wish the staging could have been as big as the costumes. I felt they played it too sweetly and too small-scale. I would have liked to have seen more elaborate sets and lighting, sweeping dramatic effects, a full orchestra and the actors pulling out all the stops with rousing slapstick gestures. Some of the actors did go all out, notably Polovitch-Davis in his various roles, Sharry O’Hara as the Queen of Hearts and Heather Malroy as the Duchess.

Malroy plays the Duchess as haughty and regal, sneering at lesser creatures in a parody of an opera diva. She is hilarious and has a fantastic voice. O’Hara plays the even haughtier queen with the same kind of style. Her “Off With Your Head” song is one of the highlights of the play, and she ends it with a long-held high note that verges on the glass-breaking level.

But if there is anyone in this cast who truly shines with comic greatness, it is Polovitch-Davis. I have seen this young man in a variety of musical performances ranging from dramatic to romantic to comic, but I think he must have been born to entertain children. Area theatergoers may remember him as the lovable Buttons in “Cinderella” at Centerstage in Federal Way. He brings the same kind of delightful antics to this performance and is thoroughly delightful as a table, Tweedledum, the oyster puppeteer, the March Hare and Knave of Hearts. His song-and-dance number with Micheal O’Hara, “Tweedledum and Tweedledee,” blows the audience of all ages away.

Peters is a sweet and engaging Alice, and she sings beautifully. She alternates in this role with Elise Campello but will play the part in the final two performances this weekend.

A particular delight for adults in the audience is a set piece called The Palace Music Hall, which is a parody of a vaudeville show.

All in all, it is a show I can heartily recommend for young children and the rest of us.

WHEN: 2 p.m. May 24-25; Alice’s Tea Party luncheon with performers, noon May 24 ($12, tickets sold separately)
WHERE: Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater at the Narrows Theater, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $10-$15
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867, www.tmp.org

1 comment:

roger said...

I love the adult costume designs. It really makes you feel in another era. Great designs, its cool and sleek.