Review: Lookingglass Alice at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission

Curiouser and curiouser… those are the words that come to mind when I think about the traditional, albeit twisted and psychedelic tale of a little girl named Alice and her adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It’s a dream-like story that can sometimes be convoluted and hard to follow, but there’s a certain appeal it has that has helped it survive many re-births since it’s original publishing in 1865. Whether it receives the Disney treatment in the 1951 animated feature, Alice in Wonderland, or the Tim Burton treatment in his 2010 film, Alice in Wonderland, it has never been a story I go out of my way to read or see presented on stage or film… until now. Baltimore Center Stage’s latest offering, Lookingglass Alice, an adaptation of the stories of Lewis Carroll by David Catlin, Directed by Jeremy B. Cohen, with Music Direction by Jose C. Simbulan and Choreography by Rennie Harris gives this timeless story a fresh, modern re-boot with fun music and fast-paced staging that pulls it out of the Victorian age and places it right into the hands of 21st century.

Media Gallery_1200x__Technically, this production is top-notch. Set Design by Tim Mackabee and Light and Sound Design by Rui Rita and Lindsay Jones, respectively, pull this production together in an awe-inspiring mix that tingles all the senses. Mackabee is wise to use a minimal, unit set that is quite appropriate and does not interfere with, but enhances the telling of the story, providing levels and though-out set pieces to keep the production interesting. Working in tandem with Mackabee’s design is the well thought-out and attention grabbing light show that sets the mood of each scene beautifully and gives a nightclub feel in well-placed points of the production, keeping the audience engaged and interested.

Media Gallery_1200x__10Lindsay Jones’ sound design is nothing but superb. Every effect is placed perfectly and carefully making the experience that much more enjoyable. Not only is he responsible for Sound Design but he also wears the hats of Composer of original music and Musical Arranger taking the well-chosen songs and fitting them into the piece perfectly to help move the story along and give it depth. Major kudos to Jones for his impeccable work on this piece.

Rennie Harris’ Choreography is inspiring and full of energy making this piece engaging and engrossing with a mix of hip-hop and lyrical moves fill the stage and show off the ensemble’s individual abilities. Also, working together with Harris’ fabulous choreography, Jose C. Simbulan’s Music Direction is on point as this cast is flawless in the delivery of the songs included in this piece. Both choreography and vocal performances make for a delightful and intriguing two hours of theatre.

Jeremy B. Cohen takes the helm of this production of Lookingglass Alice and his direction is spot on with focused, precise staging that gets actors on and off efficiently and transitions between the scenes, which are more like vignettes, are flawless. The pacing is near perfect with every moment used wisely. Cohen’s comprehension of this piece is quite apparent as his refreshing vision of this aged story with an updated, intelligent script is presented with a delicate balance of new and old.

Media Gallery_1200x__7Moving on to the performance aspect of this production, all of the actors in this small ensemble take on many, varied roles but it’s worth mentioning the extremely able ensemble members Jessica Bennet and Sensei Silab. Bennet and Silab are committed and it’s easy to see they give 100% to their various roles. Both of these actors have a definite grasp on the complex choreography and musical arrangements and they add great value to this production as a whole.

Garrett Turner, who takes on the roles of White rabbit, White Night, and March Hare is a delight to watch as he embodies these very different characters with ease. As the White Night, he has fantastic comedic timing and he is  comfortable in his well-placed interactions with the audience. His ability to switch on and off between characters is impressive

Media Gallery_1200x__9Christopher Ramirez takes on the roles of Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and the White Queen, among others and his performance is commendable. He understands his characters and shines as the caring  Mr. Dodgson who gets on the level of a young girl and tries to explain the world to her in terms she might understand. He is hilarious as the White Queen, throwing shade that RuPaul himself would be proud of, but also balances out by playing the character seriously and not over the top, exuding a compassion and caring that is required of the role. Vocally, Ramirez does a bang-up job with a smooth, booming baritone voice and shines in featured numbers such as in Milo Green’s “Afraid of Everything.”

David Darrow is a highlight in this production as he tackles the roles of Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, and Humpty Dumpty, among others. The characters are diverse and Darrow portrays each character effortlessly. Not only does he have admirable dramatic chops, this multi-talented performer provides much of the live music in this piece with a guitar and adds great value with a clear bari-tenor voice in numbers such as Jonathan Coulton’s “I Crush Everything,” and Ruth Berthe’s “Golden.” Whether he’s effectively portraying the Cheshire Cat, slinking across the stage, or giving a frantic performance as the high-energy Mad Hatter, or a comical, nerdy take on Humpty Dumpty, Darrow is certainly one to watch in this production.

Media Gallery_1200x__6Markita Prescott takes on the titular role of Alice in this production and gives an absolutely authentic and natural performance, embodying this young girl as she navigates through Wonderland searching for a way to become a queen. Prescott has great chemistry with her fellow ensemble members and really seems to have a great comprehension of her character. She plays Alice with the innocence of a child but the sass of a girl who can take care of herself and the curiosity of a person coming of age. Vocally, Prescott is superb with a strong voice that resonates throughout the theatre in numbers like the driving Emile Sande song “Breathing Underwater” and a more subdued, delicate sound that she uses in the poignant “Golden.” Overall, Prescott gives a strong, confident performance that pulls the piece together.

Media Gallery_1200x__2The definite standout in this production, hands down, is Patrice Covington as the Red Queen. Though she gives great turns in roles such as the Dormouse and Tweedle Dee, she shines brighly and intensely as the Red Queen. She steals the show during her featured number, the high-energy, upbeat Demi Lovoto tune “Confident”and that’s exactly what she exudes in her performance. The balance of elegance and diva-ness she brings to the role is on point and makes for an authentic portrayal of a tyrannical queen. Covington’s vocal performance is powerful and seemingly effortless as she wails her number with confidence, as the song suggests, and her own flare of showmanship that is second to none. I’ll be following this actresses career and am looking forward to seeing her onstage in the future.

Final thought…Lookingglass Alice is a modern, funky, and refreshing look at a very old, familiar story. The performances of this small ensemble playing various roles are focused and engaging, breathing new life and ideas into the well-known piece. The music that has been added and the arrangements of those songs give the impression that these tunes were written for this piece because they fit so well and help progress the story line. Overall, it’s a fun show to experience and whether you’re familiar with little Alice and her adventures in Wonderland or a newbie to her journeys, you will not be disappointed with this production and it’s energy. Get your tickets now as this is not one production you want to miss this season.

This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s production of Lookingglass Alice… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Lookingglass Alice will play through December 31 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410.332.0033 or purchase them online.

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PRESS RELEASE: Baltimore Center Stage Announces Lookingglass Alice Cast and Artistic Team

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Baltimore Center Stage Announces Lookingglass Alice Cast and Artistic Team

Center Stage’s Holiday Production Boasts a Contemporary retelling of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale.

Baltimore—November 3, 2017. Baltimore Center Stage is pleased to announce the cast
and artistic team for Lookingglass Alice. A witty tale of curiosity and wonder, Baltimore Center Stage brings a fresh, modern twist to the original story. As the third production in Baltimore Center Stage’s “Season of Community,” Lookingglass Alice is a journey of rediscovery—a timely theme as families reconnect during the holiday season.

Lookingglass Alice is directed by Jeremy Cohen. This is Cohen’s third production at
Baltimore Center Stage. He previously directed Let There Be Love (2010) and Wild with
Happy (2014) and he is excited to collaborate with staff members that he has gotten to
know over the years. Assistant Director Mari Travis was handpicked by Cohen and is a
native Baltimorean.

“From the beginning, this has been a collaborative process, thinking about what this story
should be for Baltimore in 2017,” said Cohen. “The idea for this production is also that
we are engaging very directly with the audience right as they walk through the doors.”

The cast includes Markita Prescott* (Alice), Garrett Turner* (White Rabbit/White
Knight), Patrice Covington* (Red Queen/Dormouse), Christopher Ramirez*
(Dodgson/White Queen) and David Darrow* (Mad Hatter/Caterpillar). Two local artists were cast as dancers, Jessica Bennett, a recent graduate of Garrison Forest School,
and Sensi Silab, a senior at the Baltimore School for the Arts, in her first professional
stage appearance.

The artistic team includes director Cohen and Assistant Director Travis, along with music
director Jose C. Simbulan (Music Director), Tim Mackabee (Scenic Designer), David
Burdick (Costume Designer), Rui Rita (Lighting Designer), Lindsay Jones (Sound Designer), and Caite Hevner (Projection Designer). World renowned professor of hip-hop dance, Rennie Harris will serve as choreographer.

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association

Lookingglass Alice begins Thursday, November 30, with previews through December 6,
and closes Sunday, December 31. Press night is Opening Night, Thursday, December 7.
For more information, visit http://www.centerstage.org or call the box office at 410.332.0033.

Lookingglass Alice is made possible by KPMG and Kramon & Graham. This performance is supported in part by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC). Center Stage’s Season Sponsor is M&T Bank and the season is also made possible by The Shubert Foundation and the Baltimore County Commission on Arts and Sciences.

About Baltimore Center

Stage Baltimore Center Stage is a professional, nonprofit institution committed to entertaining, engaging and enriching audiences through bold, innovative and thought-provoking classical and contemporary theater. Named the State Theater of Maryland in 1978, Baltimore Center Stage has steadily grown as a leader in the national regional theater scene. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE and Managing Director Michael Ross, Baltimore Center Stage is committed to creating and presenting a diverse array of world premieres and exhilarating interpretations of established works.

Baltimore Center Stage believes in access for all—creating a welcoming environment for everyone who enters its theater doors and, at the same time, striving to meet audiences where they are. In addition to its Mainstage and Off Center productions in the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood, Baltimore Center Stage ignites conversations among a global audience through digital initiatives, which explore how technology and the arts
intersect. The theater also nurtures the next generation of artists and theater-goers through the Young Playwrights Festival, Student Matinee Series and many other educational programs for students, families and educators.

Review: The White Snake at Baltimore Center Stage

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: 2 hours one 15-minute intermission

Old fairy tales and fables usually make for good fodder for stage productions, usually for what one would call “children shows” but they’re taking it up a notch down at Baltimore Center Stage with their latest offering, The White Snake, by Mary Zimmerman, Directed by Natsu Onoda Power, giving us an adult, modern version of an ancient Chinese fable of life and loss.

The White Snake is based on a Chinese fable and is about a spirit serpent who transforms herself into a lovely maiden and ventures from her mountain home into human civilization. She is accompanied by a fellow spirit, Green Snake, who poses as her sassy handmaiden. White Snake soon falls in love with the poor but upright Xu Xian and starts a life with him, only to have her past haunt her.

The story itself is a good story with a good message of “life is short, live it to the fullest” but the adaptation by Mary Zimmerman fell flat for me. Trying to update an ancient tale is always challenging but sometime the simplest route is the way to go, however, in this adaptation, it felt as though Zimmerman was trying too hard to bring this tale into the 21st century. Let me be clear, the ensemble, the musicians, the designs, and everything else about this production are stellar; it’s just the adaptation that doesn’t ring my bell. The spectacle of the production keeps it interesting but with all the modernization Zimmerman doesn’t leave much to the imagination and wants to spell out every little detail of the story making much of it feel a bit over-told with a large host of narrators describing every… little… thing. Through it all, and thanks to the ensemble, the pacing is good and stays just under the 2-hour mark.

Baltimore Center Stage recently went through a hefty face lift and it’s absolutely gorgeous. The White Snake is presented in the Head Theatre, on the upper levels and though it’s a large space, it’s more intimate than it looks and is a perfect space for this piece. Scenic Design by Hana S. Kim is minimal, but stimulating, using tall curved bamboo shoots and creating different levels with platforms. The settings are more represented rather than using intricate and specific set pieces but the design works nicely and the actors maneuver the set easily. Adding to the set, Kim also designed the beautiful projections used in this piece adding a fanciful feel to the story-telling and to the piece as a whole.

Light and Sound Design by Rui Rita and Alex Hawthorn, respectively, add great value to this piece, creating mood changes and helping with pacing from calm moments to the more frantic, garish scenes.

Nicole Wee’s Costume Design for The White Snake is authentic, yet practical and modern. Since the setting is described as “A long time ago, and yesterday.” It is challenging to create a costume plot to fit both times but Wee has managed to give representations of the times with basic costumes and by adding and taking away pieces. The actors act as puppeteers, as well, navigating through the story with snake tales and, at times, full snake puppets, but the Costume Design is comfortable and completely appropriate.

Though I wouldn’t classify The White Snake as a musical but more like a play with music, Music Direction by Jeff Song is creative, contemporary, and innovative. From what I understand, the music for this production was created from scratch, having been created, in collaboration, during the rehearsal process. With its Western and contemporary, yet authentic sound to tell an ancient Chinese fable, the music is original, appropriate, and fluid. It adds to the piece rather than distracting from it and the score blends into the production, moving the story along nicely. Kudos to Song for his diligent and inventive work.

Director Natsu Onoda Power has taken this piece and presents it in an exciting and through-provoking manner staying true to the story but bringing it to a current audience. The fluidity of the show is superb and it moves along seamlessly. Her casting is impressively diverse and her vision is clear making sense out of a hectic script and confusing adaptation.

To comment on the performance aspect of this piece, the entire ensemble did a fantastic job bringing this story to life on the stage. It is a true ensemble piece where everyone plays an important part and participates in just about every moment of the production.
As Fa Hai, the power-hungry head monk who is trying to recapture The White Snake, Peter Van Wager has a great command of the stage and a very strong presence but seems out of place. His tone and movement don’t seem to match those of his fellow cast members; not to say they are bad, because they are not, just… different. Overall, however, he gives a commendable performance.

Aimé Donna Kelly takes on the title role as The White Snake seems a bit subdued throughout most of the production. Her gentle demeanor works for much of her character, but there are particular scenes where I would like to see a little more enthusiasm and desperation. Aside from that minor detail, Kelly gives a comfortable, confident performance and makes the character her own.

Joe Ngo as Xu Xian, the kind, lovelorn, uncertain pharmacist assistant who The White Snake takes a shine to and ultimately wants to spent the rest of her life with is a definite highlight with a complete understanding of his character who is unsure, in love, hunted by a feeling of doubt, and in love all at the same time. His comedic timing is absolutely impeccable and this mixed with his authentic and clear representation of all the other emotions of his character make for a strong, assured performance that is a pleasant experience.

Eileen Rivera as The Green Snake, the sassy, loyal, somewhat quick-tempered, but humble friend of title character is the certain standout in this production of The White Snake. Rivera takes this character and runs with it, making it her own, but exuding the devotion her character has to The White Snake. She is confident and comfortable in her role with on point comedic timing and she understands her character’s purpose to help her friend who is in love and prone to making some curious decisions, but sticking by her either way. Rivera gives a near flawless performance and is a joy to watch.

Final thought… The White Snake at Baltimore Center Stage is a frenetic, modern retelling of a simple fable of the fleetingness of life and the anguish of losing something or someone. Though the adaptation is a bit of a pill to swallow, it’s a spectacle, definitely, with projections, puppets, elaborate dances, and music and not one scene goes by without a collective gasp from the audience. Everything is big, but it works impeccably for this production while keeping everything interesting and engaging and is absolutely worth checking out while enjoying the new digs at Baltimore Center Stage.

This is what I thought of Baltimore Center Stage’s production of The White Snake… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

The White Snake will play through March 26 at Baltimore Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD. For Tickets, call the box office at 410-332-0033 or purchase them online.

Email us at backstagebaltimore@gmail.com

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