When Alice falls through the rabbit hole at Imagination Stage this summer, she will find herself on a very different adventure from any Lewis Carroll created back in 19th-century England. The title, “Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure.” offers a glimpse of the exploits ahead:
Although based on Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) and “Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There” (1871), which take Alice on a sometimes-confusing journey, “Rock & Roll Adventure” is not difficult to grasp. “I think it is very easy to follow,” said Director Kathryn Chase Bryer. “Simplified, the story is about a little girl growing up and learning to believe in herself. She learns from each [character] in the play.”
Bryer first saw Rachel Rockwell and Michael Mahler’s musical performed at Chicago Children’s Theatre and decided to bring it to the Washington area. “I think of children’s theater as theater. The only differences are (that) the plays are shorter and they have a sense of hope at the end,” Bryer said. “I love the magic and storytelling of the work I do.”
This particular show is told in music, like a rock opera, Bryer said. It is a visual experience she thinks children will love.
Erin Weaver, who plays Alice, agrees. “Kids will just love the music; it’s my favorite thing,” she said. “It is so fun.”
Despite the music being her favorite thing, Weaver said it is also the biggest challenge of her role. All the performers are musicians and, she said, she had a lot to learn before the show’s opening. “I played guitar in high school, but I am not a guitar player,” she said. ‘[Fortunately] in this production, I don’t have to play as much as any of the others.”
Matt Schleigh does. The actor, whose “Alice” roles include the Queen of Hearts, the March Hare and is one of three performers making up the Jabberwock, plays electric guitar, electric bass and “maybe” some drums, he said.
“You come to see a rock and roll show and a live play,” Schleigh added. “I think kids will have a really great time with the show; everyone on stage will be playing instruments.”
Schleigh considers the show a gateway into the Alice story. “The books, while wonderful, are a lot of nonsense, purposefully,” he said. “The play follows [Alice’s] journey in little vignettes. It’s a great way for kids and their parents to learn the story.”
Weaver believes this adaptation does a really good job of portraying the core characters. “I think it has all the major bones of the original story,” she said. “Of course, the story is told in the realm of rock and roll and the ideas are articulated through music.”
At age 7-1/2, Alice wants to be a queen, she wants to be in charge and be picked first for all the games, Weaver said. Throughout her journey, she learns several life lessons and faces some of her darkest fears.
From the caterpillar, Alice learns to keep her temper; at the tea party, she finds out how to get along with others and from Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, she realizes you don’t get mad just to be mad, Bryer said.
“This is a good way to introduce a wide age range to the story, a fun thing to do this summer,” she said.
“Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure,” for ages 5 and older, runs through Aug. 13 in the Lerner Family Theatre at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda. Performances start at 10:30 a.m. weekdays, and 1:30 and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Special performances include ASL-interpreted, 4 p.m. Aug. 13; Sensory-Friendly, 11 a.m. July 16 and Open Captioning, 1:30 p.m. July 23. Tickets start at $10, and may be purchased at www.imaginationstage.org, the theater box office or by calling 301-280-1660. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.