Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s production of Alice in Wonderland by Joseph McDonough and David Kisor is a colorful, energetic take on Alice, Wonderland and the oddballs who live there. Alice’s curious journey is remarkably durable, holding up as a novel, an animated Disney film, a creepy live-action concoction by Tim Burton, a straight play and — for ETC — a musical. It seems that no matter how or how often we see Alice take off after the White Rabbit or step through the Looking Glass, we are always entertained by what follows.
In ETC’s production, Alice, played by Sarah M. White, steps into Wonderland to avoid being grounded. She soon discovers that while Wonderland’s nonsense can be fun, it can also be scarily strange. There are philosophical caterpillars, a pair of dancing clowns who call themselves Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a talking rabbit nearly always on the verge of a panic attack, a vanishing cat and even a shrill, bloodthirsty queen.
Maybe being grounded wasn’t so bad after all?
One of ETC’s real strengths is design, and this production is especially fun to look at. The show has the over-the-top feel of a circus. Brian c. Mehring’s red-and-white-striped set makes for a delightful playing space reminiscent of a big top. All of Reba Senske’s costumes, from the Caterpillar’s glossy, new wings to the Queen of Hearts’ elaborate headpiece, are dazzling and fun.
Alice in Wonderland works best when treated as an ensemble show, rather than a show about a dreamy little girl meeting a cast of supporting characters. This show does exactly that, allowing the audience to spend quality time with characters they know and enjoy. Performances are sharp and highly expressive. The show’s humor and precision and bright facial expressions seem drawn from clowning, a theme that works well in Wonderland. Deb G. Girdler’s Queen is both hysterical and terrifying. Sara Mackie’s Cheshire Cat plays to the audience and is wonderfully sung. Michael G. Bath’s White Rabbit is appropriately uptight, while little Alice is appropriately bratty and determined.
A quirky take on an already bizarre story, ETC’s Alice in Wonderland is familiar and fun holiday entertainment.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND , presented by Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, continues through Dec. 30.