Aired on KSDS-FM on 3/20/20
RUN DATES: 2/29/20 – 4/12/20
VENUE: Lamb’s Players Theatre
Adults often try to recapture the wonder of childhood.
In a similar vein, Lamb’s Players Theatre likes to dig deep into its past and revisit earlier productions, thereby accomplishing two things at once.
In 1993, in its National City location, the group, at that time still a repertory company, presented “Alice in Concert,” an unusual musical cornucopia written in 1980 by the late Obie Award-winning playwright/composer Elizabeth Swados.
The show is something of a fever-dream, or an acid trip, if you will, inspired by the two beloved books by 19th century mathematician Charles Dodgson, AKA Lewis Carroll: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass.”
Although it still plays into the prodigious vocal and musical strengths of the company, this chamber musical remains problematic: choppy and episodic, lacking the joyful exuberance and boundless wit of the books.
This production is decidedly trippy, with spectacular, imaginative, ever-changing projections by Michael McKeon, and outrageous costumes by Jemima Dutra.
The singing is superb, with lots of tight-harmony a capella magic. The band is great. And the cast is nonpareil: a heady brew of local superstars, with irresistible Megan Carmitchel at the center as a wide-eyed, agile, open-to-anything Alice.
Standout moments include Eileen Bowman’s nasty coloratura Red Queen and wacky, cocksure Humpty Dumpty; Geno Carr’s scat-singing baby; William BJ Robinson’s nimble Cheshire Cat; and Angela Chatelain Avila’s scampering White Rabbit, not to mention her killer violin-playing.
But as energetic and talented as this 11-member ensemble can be, as inventive as Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s staging and choreography, and G. Scott Lacy’s musical direction, what can’t be ignored is the generally downbeat, minor-key sensibility of the score, in spite of its wildly diverse range, from jazz to tango to calypso to country. It has rhyme, but no discernible reason.
The musical’s book is enigmatic, too, not clearly identifying story or character. The more you know the source material, the better you’ll appreciate it.
But as the voiceover intro by producing artistic director Robert Smyth advises, “If you don’t know the story, don’t try to understand it.”
Or, as John Lennon put it, “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.”
©2020 PAT LAUNER/Patté Productions, Inc.