Zach Theatre’s “Alice in Wonderland” is organized chaos and that’s not really a bad thing. Audiences become part of the show like no other theater for family show Zach has done. This “Alice,” which is produced in partnership with Underbelly Theatre, has audiences moving in and around the grounds of Zach’s campus as well as in and out of classrooms, back stage at the Whisenhunt theater and sometimes in the theater.
That’s where this “Alice” begins. Modern day Alice (Trinity Johnston) has numerous things that are making her frustrated. Her parents are too busy to play with her, make promises to take her to the brook to float the paper boat she made and then don’t keep them, seem uninterested in anything but her grades, which aren’t that great, according to them. You see, dreamer Alice, has been born to workaholic parents.
To cope, Alice created Wonderland in her imagination. There the Red Queen (Madison Weinhoffer) is also very frustrated. Someone (Alice) has taken her cookies and she wants them back. Of course, she’s not interested in hearing what really happened. She’s ready for an execution.
We first see Alice interacting with her parents at home and then she heads down the rabbit hole — the place her parents say she goes when she gets frustrated. In the rabbit hole, Alice meets Mouse (Oktavea Williams), Tortoise (Sommer Neugebauer), Dodo (Robert Di Donato) and Lizard (Malyssa Quiles). And then Alice runs off with the threat of the queen’s henchman, Rabbit (Joseph Urick), coming.
Mouse, Tortoise, Dodo and Lizard recruit the help of the audience to find Alice. Each animal takes a fourth of the audience on a fast-paced trip through Wonderland. In Tortoise’s group on Wednesday morning, we first met Humpty Dumpty, who spilled his guts, of course. Then we took a magic pill (a mint) to shrink ourselves down to fit through a tunnel to find Alice and the Cheshire Cat, which is animated on a theater screen. Soon we’re getting a puppet show from the Knave of Hearts and meeting the Paper Queen in the garden. The other groups are doing the same, but in a different order.
We return to the theater where we meet the Red Queen, who threatens to execute the Knave of Hearts. Then we’re off looking for Alice again. We play a game of croquet with the Red Queen, then get our visas from the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. We visit the Sheep Duchess and the Caterpillar, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, until we’re back with the whole group again.
Finally, Alice is moved to fess up to stealing the cookies and she returns home to her parents, whom she finally convinces to put down their work and take her paper boat sailing.
This “Alice” is smart. The school field trip audience we saw it with were completely engaged. They voted for beheading or no beheading. They talked back to the characters on stage and to their guides. They had no time for fidgeting with the constant movement and all eyes were on the action. The rabbit does sneak up on kids, and we saw one child visibly shake. This “Alice” is best viewed by an early elementary school-age audience.
Their adults, though, were a little frazzled at the constant need to count children, track children, seat children and quiet children. Sometimes, some of the lines were missed when groups of children were still being seated or still catching up to the rest of the audience, while the action continued on stage.
Zach took a big chance by stepping way out of the theater box in this production, and it mostly pays off. Most of the acting is very fun and engaging. The musical numbers other than “Happy Unbirthday,” which the audience sings, were distracting. In fact, Alice’s first song was painful become of pitch problems. That is not what audiences have come to expect from Zach’s family for theater team.
At almost an hour and a half, this was the longest theater for family show we have seen at Zach, but it didn’t feel that way. We kept wondering where we were going next, whom we would meet and what was going to happen. And, yes, at times we were just trying to play catch up as we quickly moved through Wonderland and through Alice’s imagination. Kids, though, had no problem figuring out Alice because she was so like them.
“Alice in Wonderland.” See Alice, the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and more as they move throughout the Zach Theatre property. 6:30 p.m. Fridays through April 15; 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 15; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 15. 11 a.m. May 1 is a sign-interpreted performance. $23 adults, $18 children. Whisenhunt stage, 1510 Toomey Road. zachtheatre.org