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Alice in Wonderland musical resembles dream

As I walked through the hallway, I looked to my side to see a group of children dancing in the studio, waiting for the show to start. Anticipated family and friends surrounded me, lined up through the halls and waiting for the curtain to rise.

Excited guests rushed through the main doors to grab a good seat. On the stage, brightly-colored flowers painted on the backdrop or the bubble machines in the corner to create special effects brought a true feel of Wonderland.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is the classic fantasy novel and story of a girl trapped in a mixed-up world. The story has been developed many times, the Disney cartoon version probably the most well-known.

The California Arts Academy staged their first junior stage production of the year last Fri., Feb. 1. The musical version of Alice in Wonderland, starred freshman Madison Dooley as the title character and fellow classmates Megan DeWitt, ’14 and Alex Barisic, ’11.

The lights slowly began to dim and the audience hushed as the show finally launched. All eyes fell on Alice, clad in her traditional blue dress and white pinafore, when she entered the stage.

Alice and her sister sat on the edge of the stage, reading a book. Characters entered the stage left and right, subtly introducing themselves. Soon, Alice made it known to the audience that she is sick of reading “silly stories” and falls asleep in the middle of the stage, beginning a crazy, upside-down dream sequence of music and laughs.

Before long, the Cheshire cats (DeWitt as the second) appeared with microphone headsets, acting as narrators. The triplet striped cats acted as comic relief, using their modern-term script and Starbucks coffee cups to elicit chuckles from the audience.

As Alice began her puzzling trip through the Wonderland, the music grew manic and goofy; the Mad Hatter, a classic character of the original novel, entered the stage. Wearing a tall, bright green hat and running left to right, the Hatter sings the “Happy Un-Birthday To You” song. Near the front of the stage, toddlers began singing along, resulting in frantic parents attempting to quiet them down.

If compared to the voice of the Mad Hatter in the Disney movie, the actor hit right on! The 14-year-old Mike Braa brought the crazy but lovable quality of the Mad Hatter onstage, bringing about a standing ovation after his incredible act.

From then on, each time he appeared his crazy, fast-paced theme would echo through the hall. Wearing stacks of hats and surrounded by garishly patterned set designs, the Mad Hatter brought his character to life through action rather than script.

Immediately after the Mad Hatter’s performance, strange, frightening music boomed through the speakers and the previously energetic scene darkened. As the lights dimmed, a spotlight drew everyone’s attention to the staircase.

The Queen of Hearts (Kia Vassiliades), the villain of Carroll’s tale, strutted down the staircase with a scowl on her face. Her body language and the attitude gave a convincing performance. Crying “Off with her head!” and yelling out the lyrics in a truly furious fashion, Vassiliades gave her character a dedicated and convincing performance, clad in hearts head to toe (even her royal underpants could not escape the pattern).

This student-oriented musical was based on the Disney film rather than the novels and captured the true Disney spirit. While the cartoon kept the proper syntax of the novel’s era, Director Daniel Chavez, Jr., allowed the play to bring in modernized lines easily relatable to the audience. With talk of texting and a tablecloth with a Superbowl motif, the play drew in audiences through the contemporary speech.

As I watched the remainder of the show, it felt as if I was a part of the presentation. Every song sent off energy and cheerfulness to the audience, pairing nicely with the meticulous dancing and the creative backdrop. For the few months that the cast spent working hard, they created a delightful masterpiece.

What made the Cal Arts production of Alice in Wonderland so impressive was the knowledge of the cast’s dedication. As a close friend of the title character, I often heard stories of the rehearsals. Seeing the entire play finally together brought to mind the instances of stressful evenings and beginner’s mistakes. The dedication was recognizable in their confidence; for the age group, the first show seemed without a hitch.

The musical ended with a reunion of all the characters and a game of Simon Says with the queen. Alice, along with the help of her new friends and a flashy caterpillar, managed to find her way home. Singing ‘Zip A De Doo Da’, the characters suddenly vanished beneath the curtain. Though the show was given a rather abrupt ending, the memory of the play remains fresh in my thoughts.

When the curtains close, the crowd rose from their seats and applauded to show full appreciation for the presentation. As the hall began to clear out, compliments about the hard work put into the show were spread throughout all of the Cal Arts Academy.

Just like Alice, the guests were given an evening’s trip through Wonderland and experienced a truly fantastical adventure of music and humor.

The California Arts Academy will hold three more performances of Alice in Wonderland, Jr. on Feb. 8, 9 and 10. The Fri. and Sat. productions begin at 7:30 and at 2 on Sun. Admission is $15 at the door and $12 in advance.

For more drama production reviews, visit Amanda Wood’s Dec. ’07 article, Beauty and the Beast enchants Fresno audience. For a review of Alice in Wonderland the novel, visit Suzanna Quiring’s Sept. ’07 article, Wonderland values nonsense.

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