Friday was opening night for the Christian Youth Theater production of “Alice” that runs through May 20 at Mesa Arts Center. This twist on the classic Wonderland tale finds Alice in a classroom full of kids who know just what they’d like to be when they grow up. But Alice, who struggles to finish even a single bit of homework, hasn’t the slightest idea.
“Alice” is the story of one teen’s search for her identity. Her world is populated with uniform-clad classmates, an overachieving sister and a mother guided by the latest parenting guru. She dreams one night of a place filled with strange creatures from talking flowers to tea-sipping quick change artists — all issuing a sort of wake up call for the girl who thinks only of the here and now.
“Alice” features book, music and lyrics by Jon Lorenz, musical director and member of the acting company for Lamb’s Players Theatre in San Diego. It’s based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.” Despite the deliberate “campy” vibe, the show feels more funny than punny. This production, an Arizona premiere, is directed by Tambra Lamb — who founded CYT Phoenix in 2005 and serves as its artistic director. Music direction is by Sara McDermott. The show has a cast of more than 50 youth who deliver a polished performance.
I especially enjoyed the choreography (by Kathleen Brazie, Shelley Jenkins and Tamra Lamb), set design (by Kris Tyler) and costume design (by Mary Jane McCloskey). Also ensemble vocals and performances by Jackie Tyler (Alice) and Cory Malkin (Mad Hatter/White Knight). Both are seniors who’ll graduate this month — Tyler from Veritas Preparatory Academy and Malkin from Scottsdale Preparatory Academy.
Though the musical has a message, it’s never elevated above good storytelling. Several scenes are laugh out loud funny, and scenes involving the youngest actors are especially charming. Friday’s audience was filled with kids of all ages who seemed genuinely entertained. Also proud parents who did a good job of tempering their enthusiasm (there’s nothing worse than sitting in an audience that feels like a cult).
Christian Youth Theater Phoenix is a non-profit theater company that provides after-school theater experiences for youth ages 6 to 18. Their “Alice” program notes that “each family contributes at least twenty hours of volunteer time to some aspect of the production.” All that TLC shines through in this show, creating a true land of wonder.
Note: Click here to enjoy the CYT blog, and here to learn more about CYT nationwide. Click here to explore the education guide for an NYU production of “Alice” (which includes a Q & A with the playwright). Click here for show/ticket info.
Coming up: Painting meets performance art