For the last five years now, Lakewood Playhouse has included a so-called “Spotlight” show in its schedule of main stage theatrical productions. The Spotlight series combines elements of the professional theater with those of the Lakewood Institute of Theatre (LIT), Lakewood Playhouse’s educational wing, in which both children and adults (but mostly kids) can learn all facets of the theatrical arts. Thus, the Spotlight shows feature young actors, allowing them to perform in a main stage production in conjunction with seasoned actors and a professional crew. Stories like “Treasure Island” and “The Wizard of Oz” have been presented in previous installments of the series.
This year, the Spotlight show is a theatrical version (adapted by Emily Prime Delafield) of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Directed by Jeremy Thompson, LIT’s education director, the show is an enjoyable and engrossing romp marked with fabulous acting, fantastic lighting, fanciful costumes and frantic jazz, functioning as a musical backdrop.
The true delight of Carroll’s iconic tale is the presentation of Alice’s reactions to all of the absurdity and strange characters that she encounters once she has gone down the proverbial rabbit hole. Throughout her odyssey, Alice manages to maintain an existential authenticity. She is neither overly freaked out by the strange beings and circumstances that she encounters, nor is she unsympathetic toward them. She has a willingness to engage with them largely on their own terms, without yielding entirely to their nonsense.
Alice, the star character of Carroll’s literary work is also the star, thanks to Roslyn Addy’s remarkable portrayal of the character, of this theatrical presentation of the story. Addy captures both the look and the essence of the prim, poised and nonplussed Alice as she navigates her way through Wonderland. She is both witness to and a participant in the bizarre goings on and is continually confronted with the question, “Who are you?”
Alice demonstrates who she is, a brave — if perplexed — adventurer, by her actions more than her words.
Addy’s confident performance is augmented by those of her fellow actors. Kathryn Grace Philbrook is especially silly, in a very concise and tyrannical way, as the Queen of Hearts. LaNita Walters shows something of her comedic range by playing a jittery version of the White Rabbit and a cool, coy and sultry rendition of the Cheshire Cat. Lauren Lutz simulates a rather suave Caterpillar and Theresa Byrd makes an amusing Mock Turtle.
The shrill craziness of the Mad Hatter is made manifest by Nick Bray. A revelation of this play is the talent of newcomer Barrett Stowe, whose version of Humpty Dumpty is one of the high points of the show.
Among the younger actors there are some remarkable performers. Mac Hansen is quite engaging in his role as King. Likewise, it is a joy to watch Nigel Kelley as the Knave, the Mouse and the Herald. The smallest, youngest actor, Andrea Sofia Falchetti, is an audience favorite as the Doremouse, Fish Footman and a Herald.
All of the actors except for Addy play multiple roles. Sara Theriault plays the Duchess, Tweedle Dum and a juror. Juli Dowd plays the March Hare, Magpie and a Lady in Waiting. Kyle Yoder has dynamic parts as the busy Executioner, as Tweedle Dee and as the Knight who slays the Jabberwock.
In addition to the engaging acting, Jacob Viramontes’ lighting effects (combined with a subtly foggy atmosphere) go a long way toward the creation of a surreal experience of “wonderland.” For example, the use of florescent paint on the lips and eyes of the Cheshire Cat is magical when hit with an ultraviolet spotlight. At other times, a psychedelic swirl of colors is used to stain the stage with a marvelous effect. The set designs and costumes are also brilliantly done. The construction of the monstrous Jabberwock, as a segmented being constructed of umbrellas, is a stroke of inspiration. The use of wild and expressive jazz music to accompany much of the action gives a unique flare to the affair, making one think not so much of Victorian England as of early 20th century New Orleans.
This production has a limited run. There is only one weekend left to experience this wonderful version of wonderland. The show runs through Nov. 12 with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Lakewood Playhouse’s next production, “A Christmas Carol,” is slated to open Nov. 24.
For more information on “Alice in Wonderland,” the Lakewood Institute of Theatre, or upcoming shows call (253) 588-0042 or visit lakewoodplayhouse.org.