Down the Rabbit Hole and Back Again
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Alice is back, once again finding her way through Wonderland. For the third year in a row, Bad Hats Theatre, in conjunction with Soulpepper, is presenting its popular children’s show. But I must add that adults will also enjoy this silly and sweet show.
It’s an updated Alice who arrives at school without her homework completed. She was just too baffled by the question “What am I going to be when I grow up?” She is relegated to the back corner of the classroom to finish her project, where she is completely distracted by a rabbit outside the window. Yes, she follows the rabbit, who is late, down a rabbit hole. While there, she runs into the usual characters, such as the Cheshire Cat, the March Hare, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. All the characters are updated and look much like her classmates and teacher.
This is the third year for this charming musical; it was produced in 2021 and 2022 as well. Last year, it won six Dora awards including Outstanding New Musical and Outstanding Musical Theatre Production. As well, Tess Benger in the role of Alice won the Dora award for actor in a leading role in a musical.
Benger, as Alice, is indeed outstanding. You feel her frustration with the teacher and his assignment and her puzzlement when she arrives in Wonderland. She sings beautifully and dances with great energy throughout the performance. She handles the pivotal role with ease.
The cast members who play elementary school children are all excellent. They are certainly convincing and you soon forget that they are adults. The production I happened to see had two new understudies filling in for sick cast members. Both Victor Pokinko and Chris Fulton were excellent and there was no indication they were last minute recruits.
The songs are cleverly written, and move the plot along. Music is provided by several of the actors, who appear to simply take turns sitting down at the piano. The cast also provides percussion, flute, base guitar, and melodica as needed, while carrying on in their roles. Both dance and movement are excellent; actors stay in character as children or Wonderland people and creatures.
I attended a 12:00 noon production and the audience was filled with very young and very excited school children. At first, I was concerned about their level of chatter, but they settled down as soon as the show began, and they were enthralled throughout. The show runs 85 minutes with no intermission.
This modern-day Alice in Wonderland is the perfect updating of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It contains all the same fantasy and whimsy and does a better job of bringing it all to a logical conclusion, as Alice makes her way back to reality and her classroom.
The Young Centre is in the Distillery District which is hosting the Winter Village (formerly known as the Christmas Market). It is beautifully decorated with shimmering Christmas trees and sparkling lights, which attract huge crowds causing very limited parking in the area. Allow yourself lots of time to find parking and go prepared to walk a long distance, as well as time to work your way through the throngs of visitors to the District. There is also too much street construction in the area.
Alice in Wonderland continues with eight shows a week at the Young Centre, Distillery District, Toronto until January 7, 2024. Visit https://tickets.youngcentre.ca/overview/14003 for tickets.
Photo: Matt Pilipiak as White Rabbit, Tess Benger as Alice and Aisha Jarvis as Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.
Alice in Wonderland
By Fiona Sauder
Music by Landon Doak and Victor Pokinko
Directed by Sue Miner
Musical Direction by Jonathan Corkal-Astorga
Original Choreography by Carmeron Carver
Performed by Tess Benger, Aisha Jarvis, Haneul Yi, Shakura Dickson, Ben Page, Chris Fulton, Landon Doak, Matt Pilipiak, Jessica Gallant, Fiona Sauder, plus understudies Victor Pokinko and Chris Fulton in the production I saw.
Produced by Bad Hats Theatre with Soulpepper Theatre
The Young Centre, Distillery District, Toronto
December 10, 2023 to January 7, 2024
Reviewed by Mary Alderson