Theatre for young children is deceptively hard to do well. It may seem like simple stories would be the simplest to tell, but it requires great skill to craft such stories in ways that are compelling and captivating for the pre-school and elementary school set. This is one reason why non-professional companies are often reticent to stage such works. But Sandy Spring Theatre Group (SSTG) took on the challenge with success in its version of “Alice in Wonderland.”
The young actors in this production will be ones to watch in the years ahead.
SSTG faced additional challenges with this production. It featured a large cast of both adult and child actors, which can be hard to pull off well. It was also a musical with more than a dozen songs and several reprises, formidable for any cast. Director Jacqueline Williams Rocco’s company met all of these challenges with aplomb.
Carolyn Deol, the tween actor who stars as Alice, appeared in almost every scene and was called on to sing in multiple styles. She carried this off with ease and confidence, skillfully expressing Alice’s wonder and curiosity. (While this was her SSTG debut, Deol is already a stage veteran, having appeared elsewhere in productions including another version of the same story, in which she played the Queen of Hearts.)
Daphne Wheeler, who is starting ninth grade this fall, stood out as the always-sleepy Doormouse and as the plucky but downtrodden Five of Hearts. Ella Hebeisen brought pathos to the role of the quiet, reflective Mock Turtle. Meri Abramson presided over the madness as a petty and spoiled young Queen of Hearts.
Among the adult cast, Elizabeth Weiss shined as the feverishly batty Mad Hatter and as the joke-cracking Two of Hearts. Rachel Schlaff, as the nervous Seven of Hearts, rounded out the number-card trio with charm and also displayed some impressive tap-dancing skills. Kate Amburgey delivered a show-stopper as a slinky, nightclub-inspired Cheshire Cat. Trish Pisarra and Deborah Solomon were great fun as the frenetic Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Their lengthy number toward the middle of the show was hilarious.
Another star of “Alice in Wonderland” was the costumes by Weiss and Justine Crimans. Both have considerable experience as costumers, and it showed. The colorful and elaborate outfits were on a par with what one would see in a professional children’s theatre production. The metallic rainbow of Weiss’s Mad Hatter garb in particular was amazing.
The book, music, and lyrics by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman were well-suited for the intended young audience. “Alice in Wonderland,” in both Lewis Carroll’s original novels and in some adaptations, can be quite creepy, but this version keeps things light. The creators play with various musical styles to keep the audience interested.
Sandy Spring Theatre Group delivered a great time for a young audience that seemed delighted at the show I attended. The young actors in this production will be ones to watch in the years ahead.
Running Time: One hour and 20 minutes with no intermission.
“Alice in Wonderland” ran August 4-20. 2-23 at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg 20878. For more information about Sandy Spring Theatre Group and upcoming productions, click here.