Alice in Wonderland

published: Fri, 6-Feb-2004   |   updated: Wed, 4-Jan-2017

Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, adapted by Patti Smithsonian, for Smokebrush. Directed by Patti Smithsonian. July 1998.

I played the part of Lewis Carroll in a new adaptation of the classic Alice In Wonderland story. The show was filled with fun, puppets, bizarre props, weird lights and sounds, songs, people flying all over the place, a growing and shrinking Alice, and Carroll's nonsense words, rhymes and story. It was for adults who are really big children, and children who are little adults. Great fun all round. (In case you're wondering that Lewis Carroll didn't actually appear in the story: who do you think tells it?)

The show was adapted and directed by Patti Smithsonian and was performed on the Smokebrush theatre stage. Because of the nature of the show (any one of the myriad special effects was liable to fail <g>), the performance was very different on different nights.

In case you were wondering, when you read the cast list below, the Unseen Forces are a group of ethereal helpers who bring Wonderland to life. They take on the roles of various characters and objects throughout the show.

Sean O'Meallie fashioned this amazing writing implement for me: I wish I had a picture. There was a roll of paper that unwound over a writing surface on a box, with a hand crank doing the unwinding. The box was hung round my neck. The pen was attached to a a lever system such that I held onto a knob that I wiggled back and forth to make the pen write on the paper. Of course, it was all vividly painted in primary colors. I essentialy wandered around the stage with this paper unwinding and trailing behind me. An absolute hoot!


Member of the Unseen ForcesScott Allegrucci
Various CharactersTony Babin
Lewis CarrollJulian Bucknall
AliceKaren Felber
Member of the Unseen ForcesClaire Griffin
Various CharactersForrest Hinnegan
Member of the Unseen ForcesTom Studor

Review from the Colorado Springs Gazette

Mark Arnest: ON STAGE

'Alice' takes audience on magical, manic tour

Enchanting and imaginative, Patti Smithsonian's adaptation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" at the Smokebrush Theater is must-see theater. A manic cast and an extraordinarily strong production team present what may be the Springs' most ingenious evening of original theater ever.

From composer Bob Tudor's bowel-shaking opening, as the members of the Unseen Forces - Scott Allegrucci, Claire Griffin, and Tom Studer - creep down the aisle or descend from the rafters, Smithsonian brings Carroll's classic to life. She takes broad liberties with details, but stays true to the story's outline.

The character of the insomniac mathematician Carroll, urbanely played by Julian Bucknall, occasionally appears to remind us that this is all a story he's writing for his friend Alice, played by Karen Felber. The story itself is propelled by the Unseen Forces, joined now and then by Tony Babin and Forrest Hinnegan as various characters.

If it seems impossible that seven actors could do everything they do in this 70-minute show, it's because they have a lot of support from the Smokebrush's production team. Sean O'Meallie designed and built the adorable radio-controlled rabbit, which Alice follows in the first place; Lindsay Ray turns Alice's tears into a sea of silk, lapping across the Smokebrush stage; choreographer Diann Sichel has the playing cards snapping alertly to Tudor's martial rhythm; and Will Small's spectacular, shimmering lighting effects had the audience oohing and aahing.

Tudor's score is one of his finest and most ambitious creations, although taken as a whole it's too eclectic. The highlight is Alice's song, "I'm Being so Many Different Sizes in a Day," a difficult-to- sing number in which Felber conveys a sense of wonder with a sweet- sounding voice.

It all makes for an unforgettable evening, from the shadow play of Alice falling down the rabbit hole, to the hilariously oversized fabric caterpillar, to the enormous and lumpy inflated Duchess, to the delightfully crude animation of the Cheshire Cat, who rolls her eyes and wobbles her jaw before fading into nothingness.

"Alice" is more a show about childhood than a show for children. But it's certainly suitable for young audiences, even though children may miss some of the layers.

But for all its astounding effects, I've never seen a show in which its strengths and its weaknesses were so nearly identical. Smithsonian's work often has an "everything including the kitchen sink" quality to it, but this creative team gives her a bigger kitchen sink to work with than ever before. The gadgetry threatens to overwhelm the characters, and there's a profound lack of creative continuity.

An example is the Mock Turtle's scene. Allegrucci's puppet routine as the irritable turtle is one of the show's highlights; so is his Tom Jones imitation in the turtle's disco "Lobster Quadrille"; and so is the turtle's finale, the gospel "Turtle Soup." All three bits are delightful, but none of them connects with the others.

In dreams, of course, images often follow one another in no logical order; but there, the transitions always make sense, no matter how illogical they are. In "Alice," you're jarred again and again, and the overall effect is more of having been to the circus than of having participated in someone else's fantasy.

But don't let that deter you. Despite this flaw - perhaps, because of it - "Alice in Wonderland" is an evening you won't want to miss.

(c) The Gazette 1998

Review from the Colorado Springs Independent

Smokebrush's sleight of stage
Malcolm Howard

In staging Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Smokebrush Center for Art and Theatre uses brilliant lighting effects, great set design, goofball physical comedy and imaginative recycling of props to create worlds that would seem impossible anywhere outside the Disney animation department.

More than once, I was surprised by the original and whimsical trickery of Smokebrush's version of Dreamworks - made all the more impressive because Smokebrush employs imagination (and a few pulleys), but not big budgets to dazzle its audiences.

To describe the effects in detail would rob those who've not seen Alice the chance to gasp and chuckle at Wonderland's whimsies. As just one example, though, one single prop (a tent-like dome of fabric) takes on the shapes and personae of at least four characters: a magic mushroom, a caterpillar, the Mock Turtle and the Queen's dress.

Amid all these wonders, however, Alice herself gets a bit lost. Played with all the appropriate wide-eyed earnestness by porcelain-skinned 17 year-old Karen Felber, this shrunk down, 70-minute production doesn't give Felber's character the chance to really grow. In the end, Smokebrush's Alice is more an assortment of fantastic, psychedelic skits than the staging of a larger albeit disjointed, odyssey. The overall journey, therefore, has little cumulative effect either on the main character or on the audience.

That weakness aside, director Patti Smithsonian and her crew did succeed marvelously in raising silliness to high art (not to mention, raising art to high silliness), though you may need to get high yourself if you want to find meaning in this production. I wasn't, and I didn't. But I still had a really great time in Wonderland. You will too.

(c) The Independent, 1998