“Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure” is a delightfully raucous rock musical.

“Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure”
Theater Blog Post by Keith Mize

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“Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure” is a delightfully raucous rock musical.  Presented by the Childsplay Theatre and performed at the Tempe Center for the Performing Arts. This musical adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic has something for everyone. Kids will enjoy the journey Alice takes them on through Wonderland where they will meet many of the colorful characters in the original Carroll classic. Everyone will love the rock music reminiscent of the fast paced Disney songs kids and adults have grown to love. It may surprise you to know that all the music is actually played by the actors in the play, which makes the show a live music show as well as a wonderful play.  I was very pleased to see an amazing array of musical instruments played during the show.  If you take your kids to the show challenge them to count how many different musical instruments they can spot, you will be surprised.

The cast of actors brought life to this musical performance of classic Carroll chaos. The dancing, singing and musical performance was a real triple treat as well as a testament to the skill and dedication of this ensemble. Michelle Chin plays young Alice and does a spot on job bringing the ever inquisitive Alice to the stage. I especially liked how Alice’s cat Dinah was included via some creative puppetry (think Jim Henson) by Katie McFadzen.  My favorite songs were “Keep Your Temper”, “Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee”, and “(You’ll Never Be A) Red, Red Rose”.  Tommy Strawser played a marvelous caterpillar as well as Tweedle Dee. Fans of the band Tenacious D are really going to love Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee’s battle ballad, played by Tommy Strawser and Kyle Sorrell. “(You’ll Never Be A) Red, Red Rose” was a fabulously flamboyant song that pushed the attitude meter off the gauge.  The entire cast really put a musical flare on a cherished classic that worked so well.

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I would be remiss if I did not mention all the people behind the scenes, far too many to mention by name, who use their extensive musical and creative talents to bring this rock & roll adventure to life.  The set design (Aaron Jackson) and costume design (Connie Furr Soloman) were brilliant. The way Alice was depicted falling down the rabbit hole was amazing; and the costume and wig designs were truly Broadway worthy, an explosion of color and whimsy, what you might expect if Carroll and Seuss had a child.

The performance run time is approximately 85 minutes with no intermission.  On a practical note have young kids visit the restroom prior to the start of the play and as we parents say “try”.  Once again the Childsplay did not disappoint. My family had a wonderful afternoon at the theater and encourage anyone with young children or grandchildren not to miss this musical adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic.

Jodee’s Childsplay’s The Grumpiest Boy in the World

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Boys and grumpiness are two things our family knows a bit about. Contrary to popular belief, boys have a lot of emotions and expressions. They can even be dramatic. (Gasp!) Without knowing much about the story, I was excited to see that Finegan Kruckemeyer’s The Grumpiest Boy in the World addressed the emotional self of boys. Something in the directness of the title had my kids interested and amused. They immediately dubbed the play “King Grump” and called it that for weeks before we even saw the show. Of course, boys don’t only feel degrees of anger, but that was a relatable start. Director Jon Gentry put together a vibrant, energetic show that explores a lot of big feelings, using big characters and big laughs, and a tiny cast with minimal costumes and set pieces.

The narrative is about Zachary, an ordinary 9-year-old boy with a terrible problem–he feels that his “normal” is killing him. He imagines himself the scientific example of everything extraordinarily dull and soon determines he must discover a place where he is different. His plan is to go the the most outrageously odd place in the world (of his imagination) where he would be the only person of his kind. He embarks on this adventure and finds, to his frustration, that no matter how curious the characters he meets, he strangely shares things in common with them.

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Though it was opening day on the Studio stage of the Tempe Center for the Arts, we were actually seeing a performance polished over months of playing at schools around Arizona. The entire set was designed to fit in a large van. This simplicity made the set even more like a child’s imaginative play space. A single backdrop with pictures reminiscent of vintage circus posters looked a bit like a famous sideshow. When props began appearing through the flap in the middle, I no longer noticed the pictures; the colors, costumes and characters took center stage. As Zachary travels, each place was built with simple set pieces, like chairs, stools, coat racks and a trunk.

The show opens with physical comedy by the lively Bobby Shook (Dad/Scientist 2/Other).  His routine is part of setting the stage, which was cleverly accomplished. The Childsplay productions we have seen have all used amusing physical theatre to engage the audience. It works to capture my children’s attention every time. My family, along with all the other audience members around me, were laughing from shortly after the lights went up.

With so many characters to be and places to go, Shook and the hilarious Caroline Wagner (Mum/Scientist 1/Other) were constantly in motion, changing costumes and scenes. They used a variety of colorful voices and movement. My youngest really loved the Voice of Impending Doom character and thought that was the funniest part of the show. Another favorite was the boyish Tony Latham as Zachary. My boys easily identified with the “big feelings” (as we call them at home) that seemed to fill Latham’s whole frame.

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Inventive use of puppetry and costuming by Elizabeth Ihlenfeld multiplied a cast of three into a colorful assortment of characters. Most of our questions were about the costumes that identified the roles. The cast was kind enough to explain details of the larger costumes during the after-show Q & A.

With so many performances previous, I was not surprised that the 45-minute show went off without a noticeable hitch. Maybe the Giant had to advance the sound cue twice on the laptop, but Shook is so interesting to watch, the action could have been part of the comedy. Stephen Christensen’s sound design, accessed by an onstage laptop, worked well and is certainly economical with space.

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While I think the message was about finding what make us different, it was also about the commonalities that we use to better relate to others. Some of the things we share are emotions and desires that are familiar to all kinds of people, be they Hairy, Giant, or exceedingly grumpy.  Zachary’s common ground with others helped him make friends, who later aided him in his pursuit of his goal to be the ultimate in grumpiness.

I recognized the familiar narrative of adventure and discvery, where the hero realizes important things about himself in the process of telling his elaborate expedition. It was a little reminiscent of Max’s voyage in Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. One of my boys came home ready to write his stories. The show’s storytelling inspiration might just be a tool to help him learn more about his own strengths.

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The show was an enjoyable family experience, from before the show with the 360° Experience and as we laughed while sharing our favorite parts on the drive home.  After all of the fun, I came away feeling that when we focus on telling stories about our lives and dreams, we can see the patterns that reveal our unique traits. I hope my kids get that, too.

My family was generously provided tickets in return for a review. The opinions expressed are entirely those of myself and my family.

“Make no mistake there is a lot packed into this show.” – Family Blogger Julie

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Do you remember the world(s) you created in your childhood bedroom? I had a play kitchen that was my own kitchen in my own house. I made my mother knock before entering my “house” for a while. During my parent’s divorce, I once arranged my blankets into a big nest, like Big Bird had on Sesame Street.

Then there was the period when I categorized my stuffed animals according to species. Why did no one notice I might be a little “too organized” for a child? Truth is parents are busy and distracted, even when their children are hurting. Watching Interrupting Vanessa I cringed a little when Vanessa mimics her mom being too busy to indulge her daughter’s imaginative play.  I cringed a lot when Vanessa’s mom calls her treasures, “a pile of junk.” I resolved immediately to lift my head when my children are speaking to me. I will endeavor not to make a fuss over the piles of Legos that cover the floor in my son’s room or the heaps of doll clothes on my daughter’s floor.

Vanessa’s room lets us into her mind. Her dad is there, just hanging out, reading the paper, and telling jokes, just as he used to do before he died a year ago. Since that time, Vanessa has withdrawn into the safety of her room and her imagination. Inside her room is everything she needs: costumes and props she uses to embellish her fanciful stories, experiments and inventions, and even a forbidden chocolate cupcake.

When Vanessa’s mom invites Timmy Fibbins over for a playdate Vanessa’s comfortable existence is set on edge. Timmy is the awkward kid you remember from your own school days. Today we might wonder if he is on the autism spectrum.

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I have shared many Childsplay performances with my children. One of the things I like best is that productions are multi-layered. Young children always enjoy the zany antics and colorful costumes of the characters on stage.  Depending on age and maturity, some will notice deeper themes. Childsplay productions are always thought provoking for the adults in the audience.  Make sure to grab a copy Questions for the Ride Home at the end of the show. This is a great way to help everyone explore the show on a deeper level.

Interrupting Vanessa is a short play; running time is less than one hour. Make no mistake there is a lot packed into this show. The talented cast conveys themes of loss, friendship, and being different. As with all productions at Childsplay, there is a short Q&A at the end. Fortunately, for us, the Prop Master and the Director were in the audience providing extra insight into all the components of a successful show. My 11 year old really liked Interrupting Vanessa. He made a beeline for the stage at the end when the audience is welcome up to meet the cast. I looked up to see that he had pulled one of his own treasures out of his pocket to show the cast: a Lego mini-figure. The next time I peer into his room, I will wonder what sort of wondrous world he is imagining in there.

BY: Family2Family Blogger, Julie

 

“…if the purpose of theater is to make you feel then The Yellow Boat accomplished that.”

There’s a notion that we choose our parents. As The Yellow Boat begins, the audience witnesses Benjamin (Rudy Ramirez) choose his parents (Katie McFadzen and Kyle Sorrell). It’s easy to see why; he chooses two solid, loving ones who lavish attention on their only child, fully embracing his active imagination and artistic gift.

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I took my husband, Dave, and our children Landen (10) and Caroline (8) to see The Yellow Boat yesterday. Recommended for ages 7+, the audience was decidedly adult, likely, because this was heavier fare than the productions we expect from Childsplay. I did not share the subject matter of The Yellow Boat with my family ahead of time.

Both children enjoyed the early scenes highlighting Benjamin’s high energy and creative spirit. At one point Landen leaned over and said, “I like this.”

Early on, we learn that Benjamin was born with hemophilia. We witness his parents try to maintain normalcy for their child while protecting him. Most parents can relate to the comical scene where Benjamin’s parents seek out the best school for him.

Concern sets in, as Benjamin is increasingly fatigued. No one knows why and poor Benjamin is subjected to a battery of tests and an array of pokes and prodding. The audience and Benjamin’s parents soon learn that Benjamin tests positive for the virus that causes AIDS. Set in the early 1980’s, a time we knew little about AIDS and fear was at an all-time high. Abandoned by their friends, the trio becomes isolated and Benjamin withdraws. His frightened mother forbids Eddy, Benjamin’s best friend, from seeing him. Soon school is a distant memory and Benjamin spends his days and nights confined to a hospital bed while doctors search for a cure.

The one bright spot being the aptly named, Joy (Debra K. Stevens), who is not a medical doctor but the Wellness Specialist tasked with finding “the part that works.” This role struck me as a part Robin Williams would have relished. Stevens indeed brought joy to the stage and to Benjamin with her backpack full of tricks designed to help her patients process their feelings.

As Benjamin’s condition worsens, you can’t help but imagine yourself or your child in a similar position. At this point, Landen leaned over and said, “I hate this.”

The aforementioned Eddy eventually does come to the hospital. He is full of questions. Are you afraid? Are you in pain? Do you cry? What’s it like to know? He asks the questions we all have surrounding death.

As The Yellow Boat sets sail, you can hear the sniffles in the audience. As the play ends, the actors come to the front of the stage and a few have misty eyes. One can’t help but feel the impact of this story of love and life and death.

As we exited, Caroline said, “I almost cried because I think he died.” I told her he had indeed died and we all commented on how sad that was. My children are too young to know what AIDS is, Landen asked and we told him in the car. Dave led the kids in a conversation about the different kinds of theater experiences. We all agreed we liked musicals better but if the purpose of theater is to make you feel then The Yellow Boat accomplished that. As Dave said, “it was life.”

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