BY STUART DUNCAN
Ever since Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) wrote "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (quickly shortened to "Alice in Wonderland") in 1865, grownups have been trying to convince each other that the work must be something more than a children's story.
After all, the author was an accomplished mathematician, as well as a logician, an Anglican deacon and a photographer of note. Surely he must have intended his fantastic tale for adults as well as the kids.
There are real problems, of course, in translating the novel from page to stage and the latest attempt, at Kelsey Theatre, on the campus of Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, shows many of them.The story is little more than a series of fanciful characters; presented one after another, as young Alice plunges down a hole trying to follow a white rabbit. There really is no plot line, but there really are few character studies either.
The latest effort to use Mr. Carroll's tale as a basis for an evening in the theatre, is a musical, written by the late Marilyn Gerold (she did the book, music and lyrics) and brought up to date, supposedly as a "family musical" with full orchestrations, small honing of the script and tiny adjustments in character introduction. The show originally was performed with piano.
Sadly, it makes little difference ... "Alice" remains a kid's show – and a mighty blemished one at that.
You cannot really blame anyone except the author for its problems: Ms. Gerold has written some cute tunes, nothing memorable, you understand, but cute and satisfying. She has followed the book as precisely as one could want (and that, of course, is much of the problem.)
Nor can you blame director Claudia Perry who has gotten as much out of a young company as one could possibly expect and kept things moving as merrily as one might hope. Nor musical arranger Eric Barnes who has taken time off from his "everyday job," on the national tour of "Chicago" to supervise a spirited "pit" orchestra (of 7.)
The cast is huge (25 in total) and, as one might expect, runs the gamut from talented to rather dull. Lauren Parsons, as Alice, has great charm, wears a blonde wig with distinction and can make some sense out of the mad tea party (no mean trick.)
Mariel Rosati steals the evening as The Cheshire Cat, slyly singing up a storm and undulating all over the stage. Jenny Horowitz has some moments as Myrtle the Turtle (think Mock Turtle,) but suffers from that traditional young talent syndrome – lack of diction. Liz Larsen who played the version almost a generation ago went on to Broadway stardom and Tony Award nominations.
But the show needs spark and, at least on opening night, it had none. Of course, opening night was hurt by a tiny audience – the direct result of a fund-raising effort, pegged at $50.00 a head and badly run. Kelsey Theatre is no place for fund-raising efforts.
"Alice in Wonderland" continues this weekend. You may reserve or gather information by calling (609) 584-9444.