Great Cast, Stunning Tech Work Make “Alice In Wonderland” Work At OTSL- Now About That Music

Ashley Emerson as Alice joins David Trudgen as the March Hare and Aubrey Alicock as the Mad Hatter in Opera Theatre-St. Louis’ production of “Alice In Wonderland.” Photo credit: Ken Howard.

Cute, petite with a voice and facial expressions that just knock you out, Ashley Emerson makes the final show in Opera Theatre-St. Louis’ season worth the trip. Her supporting cast and a design team that gets the look and feel of “Alice In Wonderland” perfect, unfortunately can’t help out in the music department. Although the St. Louis Symphony and conductor Michael Christie sound perfect, the dissonance and odd melodic threads in the score are not- if you’ll pardon the expression- my cup of tea.

There are a few exceptions such as the on-stage clarinet “caterpillar,” James Meyer who hits just the right notes for choreographer Sean Curran’s brilliant dance and performance as the colorful caterpillar. And the impressive rap-style delivery by Jenni Bank as the Duchess is a highlight as well. David Trudgen turns in a great performance as the always late White Rabbit and the mad March Hare while Matthew DiBattista is a scream as the mouse as well as the Dormouse.

Ashley Logan as the cook, Jenni Bank as the Duchess and Ashley Emerson as Alice cavort on stage as Tracy Dahl as the Cheshire Cat observes from above. Photo credit: Ken Howard

Tracy Dahl is a real stand out as the Cheshire Cat. You never tire of her wonderful Soprano ringing through the Loretto-Hilton theatre. Ashley Logan also turns in a delightful comedy turn as the cook and Julie Makerov and Bradley Smoak are a trip as the Queen and King of Hearts. Aubrey Alicock is a wonderful Mad Hatter and, as do the rest of the powerful cast, doubles up as more of the wild characters that inhabit the Lewis Carroll classic.

The technical crew outdid themselves with a tricky set that the cast and crew handled quite nicely. A series of bookcases, hutches and other massive pieces of furniture are turned and moved throughout the 2-hour, no intermission opera to open up or get projected on for an endless variety of settings. Allen Moyer gets kudos for the set design while Greg Emetaz developed the fascinating and surprisingly workable video images that create effects such as Alice growing small, then large and she and the rabbit falling down the rabbit hole. The Cheshire Cat’s famous smile also works well with the help of these “special effects.”

Christopher Akerlind’s lighting design kicks into high gear as well including a sumptuous overall look and some specials that help tell the complicated story. Director James Robinson has brought it all together in fine fashion as the action moves quickly despite what look like complicated set changes. The James Schuette costumes add color and humor to the proceedings as do the wig and make-up designs of Ashley Ryan. This is a very difficult show to pull off because of all of the outlandish characters and settings and this creative team has done wonders in wonderland. Hats off (mad hats and otherwise) to them all.

Hernan Berriso as the Knave of Hearts, Julie Makerov and Bradley Smoak as the Queen and King of Hearts and Aubrey Alicock as the Mad Hatter hold court with members of the chorus as onlookers during “Alice In Wonderland” at Opera Theatre- St. Louis. Photo credit: Ken Howard.

Though probably a creative and innovative score, the Unsuk Chin music is not to my taste. It does wander all over the place but, other than a few moments, I found it to be too dissonant and lacking in power for me. The David Henry Hwang libretto serves the story well but it too seems to wander and can’t really encompass a work as vast as “Alice In Wonderland.” It is, however, quite entertaining and brings these outlandish characters to vibrant life.

There are many opera fans who will praise the score, I’m sure. For me, although the music did not thrill me, I can still highly recommend this show for the aesthetics of the performances and superb technical work. Love the voices, love the humor and love the overall look of “Alice In Wonderland.” It plays in repertory with the three other operas through June 23rd. Call Opera Theatre at 314-961-0644 for tickets or more information.

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