KPBS AIRDATE: NOVEMBER 17, 2000
When you go to a world premiere musical, you might expect scintillating sounds, but you may have to settle for sparkling sights. At Sledgehammer Theatre, appearance is everything…. But you can’t walk out singing the set. The musical “Alice in Modernland” is as lackluster as its title. But the production of this “Alice” is incandescent.
Director Kirsten Brandt has assembled an outstanding cast of exceptional singers. And she’s hired a spirited backup band. But the score, written by Canadian Kirsten Nash, is so derivative, so repetitive and so relentless, it sort of screams you to sleep. Shrieking, growling and belting doth not a rock musical make.
Maybe if it weren’t through-sung, with no dialogue, it would be less soporific. And maybe if the lyrics were more clever, more insightful, it would maintain attention. For my money, anyone who steals and reuses “kaleidoscope eyes” should be hanged for lyric treason. The best thing that ever happened to Kirsten Nash was Kirsten Brandt.
Brandt has taken this ho-hum musical and made it sing — visually, that is. Her eye-popping stage-pictures and endlessly imaginative direction are dazzling. David Weiner’s set and Mary Larson’s costumes are delightfully witty and versatile. But all the brilliance and beauty of this production can’t conceal a deeply flawed conception.
Young Alice, an abused singer wannabe, leaves home and falls into Modernland, a sleazy club that represents the slimy end of the music business — a decadent den of sex, drugs and drag queens. The divas will kill you if the illegal substances don’t. But you’ve got to be true to yourself and not sell your soul. Follow your heart and pursue your art. That’s the profoundly original message.
And though the character names are enlightening, their motivations are opaque. Why is the Queen a cross-dresser? Why is the Duchess a hairdresser? Where is the so-called Mad Hater? And who is Y.D. Rabbit, anyway? Whatever he is — an albino apparition, Alice’s guardian angel, a rival record producer — Douglas Lay makes him irresistible. His frenetic moves and finger-in-the-socket appearance are riveting. As the Duchess, Leigh Scarritt gets to stretch her musical muscle as well as her legs; Christopher Hall drags the Queen to the ‘Rocky Horror’ hilt; Ruff Yeager plays a reasonably cool Cheshire cat; and as Alice, Wendy Hoover seems like Sledge’s new Julie Jacobs, with her insouciant sexiness and super voice…. If only she could stop fussing with her clothes and make us care.
This musical isn’t something to care for or about. I just kept wishing that, like the original Alice, I had a pill to make me smaller, so I could just disappear.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.