Our family reads a lot. My husband and I love reading classics to our kids — everything from The Wind in the Willows to Stuart Little to Alice in Wonderland. I absolutely love Alice in Wonderland — it’s a trippy tale about a girl wandering through a wonderful-yet-worrisome world. It’s like The Wizard of Oz, but crazier. Julian loved the version we got, complete with large pages and original pictures. So, it seemed only fitting that my kids’ very first theatre experience would be The Children’s Theatre of Cincinnati’s Alice in Wonderland.
We went to the Taft Theatre on Saturday for the opening performance — and it was spectacular. The kids were really excited about the show, and took in the Taft with wide, eager eyes. The Art Deco interior of the Taft never ceases to amaze me, and my kids were impressed, as well. With a couple of minutes before the show, we finally took our seats, bracing ourselves for an hour of boisterous kids.
We were proven wrong. The kids sat captivated for the entire, hour-long performance. And so did we.
The show starts in Alice’s family room, which is pleasant and comfortable… and a bit boring. It’s domestic comfort at its dullest. Just like Alice, the audience is craving excitement and adventure — and the show delivers.
Alice, like many kids, wants to be big. Because adults have all the fun, right? She’s also like many kids in that she has a vivid imagination. So when falls asleep while reading, she literally falls… right through the rabbit hole and into Wonderland.
This is where things get exciting. While in Wonderland, Alice meets the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Turtle, 5, 7 and 9 of Hearts, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (or Tweedle 1 and Tweedle 1, as they insist on being called since Dum doesn’t want to be called Dumb, and neither of them wants to be Tweedle 2), and many others.
Each character has a song and flash-mob-style dance. (Yes — it’s a musical, which is a great medium for really keeping kids engaged and entertained!) There’s topical humor (it’s a caucus race where nothing gets done!). There’s the amazing, Carrollian puns and wordplay that will make your kids giggle and adults smile and shake their heads. There’s a larger-than-life Queen who plays croquet with flamingos and yells “Off with his head!”
My favorite character was a Cheshire Cat, a total feat of dramatic imagination. He’s comprised of several people holding large, glow-in-the-dark cat limbs, moving with perfect, synchronized, cat-like stealth. His teeth and eyes light up in a way that suggests this is one sly cat. Even the tail sashays from side to side.
Then the cat breakdances, each limb scattering across the stage. Harvey, wide-eyed and barely blinking on my lap, murmured “Uh oh. Cat broken!”
The sweetest, and least mad character in Wonderland is the Turtle, who also happens to be the punchline of every other character’s jokes. He’s slow. Give him a paintbrush to paint the Queen’s roses, and he’ll get there long after the paint dries. Then we all realize how wise and right it is to take your time — especially when it comes to growing up.
Brooke Chamberlin plays Alice beautifully, with a mix of both wide-eyed, fish-out-of-water wonder and sassy street smarts. Kids will definitely relate to, and root for, her. In the end, Alice evades the Queen and wakes up, a little dazed, on her family room couch. She wisely tells her mom she can wait to grow up. Just when she’s about to chalk the whole thing up to a wild dream, something catches her eye in the family room that wasn’t there before. It’s a little piece of Wonderland there to remind her that “Wonderland” isn’t a place; it’s a sense of childlike awe and wonder of the world. And that’s something to hang on to as long as possible. The Children’s Theatre captured this beautifully — and that’s a wonderful thing.
Alice in Wonderland runs through Oct. 23 at The Taft Theatre. You can catch one of the four remaining shows: Friday, October 21 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, October 22 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. and Sunday, October 23 at 2 p.m.