The cast of Shakespeare by the Sea’s Alice in Wonderland at Cambridge Battery, Point Pleasant Park. (Nick Harrison)
I have watched my little girl grow up watching Shakespeare by the Sea’s all-ages, comic variations on classic tales.
Now the company is 25 and she is 18 and living in Montreal. So this summer I took my Ontario great-nieces — eight and 13 – and my sister. I knew the show would be great but they were dubious. At the end the beaming kids said, “Can we see more of their shows?”
Alice in Wonderland is a reprise of the company’s 2012 hit and a laugh-out-loud, musically-rich, high-energy comedy. The remarkably talented actors and singers totally invest themselves in the wacky world of Lewis Carroll, made even wackier here.
The show, directed by its first director Jesse MacLean, brings back 2012 audience favourites of Kathryn McCormack as The Mad Hatter, Simon Rainville as the White Rabbit and Tom Gordon Smith, who is so funny and wickedly imperial as The Queen of Hearts.
This production is blessed with the golden-voiced Melissa MacGougan as Alice, who plays the imaginative, adventure-seeking heroine as an earnest, genuinely perplexed, ultimately savvy 12-year-old. (She has a wonderful soprano voice for hitting some tricky notes.)
As is usual in these popular, collectively-created adaptations of children’s classics, Alice is full of rapid-fire, contemporary references from the Brady Bunch to the movie Bodyguard that may go over kids’ heads but leave adults like my sister in stitches.
The show moves so fast and with so much energy, talent, dance and song that it doesn’t matter if a child doesn’t know or understand all the references, or hasn’t read both Alice books. However, it’s richer if you do; for instance, the giant Cheshire grin rising like a moon makes more sense.
Told by four cards singing barbershop harmonies and making tons of puns, the play has a wonderful, purple-clad, somewhere-between-helpful-and-menacing, Cheshire cat in Peter Sarty, a jazzy caterpillar split in two performed by McCormack and Jade Douris, a sweet, sleepy Dormouse (also played by Douris) and a great manifestation of the multi-eyed and truly scary Jabberwocky.
This is a showperson’s piece complete with jazz hands.
Alice in Wonderland, with its award-nominated score created by Jeremy Hutton and fantastic, detailed costumes, runs to Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. at Cambridge Battery with indoor matinees at 1 p.m. at Park Place Theatre. You can reserve in advance if you wish online (http://www.shakespearebythesea.ca/index.html).
Great-niece Illyanna Ellis with the Cheshire Cat (Peter Sarty) and the Mad Hatter (Kathryn McCormack).