Curiouser and curiouser, and groovier: a classic of children’s literature hits the dance floor in Disco Alice: The Wonderland Remix, an original adaptation performed by Perseverance Theatre’s Young Company, March 1-3 and 8-10 in the Phoenix Theatre (Black Box). Based on the beloved book by Lewis Carroll, this fantastical production for all ages, adapted and directed by William Conrow, features disco-era choreography by Becky Engstrom and Alisha Falberg, psychedelic scenic murals by Glo Ramirez, and whimsical costumes by Ruth Fulwiler.
A dynamic cast of 19 students from across Juneau, ranging in age from 8 to 15, take on such familiar roles as Alice (Sophia Nylen), the White Rabbit (Sydney Hood), the Queen of Hearts (Molly Minick), the Cheshire Cat (Clare Homan), the Mad Hatter (Rachel Wood), and the Jabberwocky (Seth Coppens), a malevolent creature from the Wonderland sequel Through the Looking Glass, making a cameo appearance here. But audiences will see some fresh interpretations.
“She’s adventurous. She’s enthusiastic. She becomes more friendly and kind of sassy toward the end,” Sophia Nylen says of Alice, a role that’s been supremely fun and empowering to play. “She learns that she should not doubt herself. There are many people who say she shouldn’t be herself, like her parents and the Jabberwocky, but she learns to listen to her instincts.”
Strange as it might seem to set a 1865 children’s story to a soundtrack of hit songs by the likes of ABBA, Donna Summer, Kool & The Gang, The Bee Gees, and Blondie, the pop culture aesthetic of the turbulent 1970s certainly fits the disorienting misadventures of Alice and her Wonderland companions. Over the course of the show, the stage-shy tween heroine progresses from “The Hustle” of trying to fit in, to a wide-eyed “State of Independence” as she explores Wonderland, to the punk-rock female rebellion of Blondie’s “Rip Her to Shreds.” A dancing ensemble is always there, challenging Alice and coaching her along.
“The young actors are picking up choreography as if they were seasoned veterans of the stage,” marvels choreographer Becky Engstrom. “From the first rehearsal, when I taught the Hustle line dance, I knew this was going to be a wonderful journey with the Young Company. They really look like they enjoy dancing with each other.”
In addition to such iconic moves as the Bump, the Funky Chicken, and the Hitchhiker, the students had to master new dances that could only take place in Wonderland—for instance, the Lobster Quadrille, sort of a beach party hand-jive with everybody in bright red lobster mitts.
“Bill made it clear that he wanted to keep everyone on stage as much as possible,” Engstrom says. “This meant that the entire performance has to be performed very much like a dance, where it’s crucial to focus on transitions through awareness of body movement. It requires great mental and physical stamina to do a production like this. The actors also have been given many props to use, which adds a greater challenge to learning choreography.”
For adapter/director Bill Conrow, bringing Disco Alice to life has been “exhilarating, and not just for me as the storyteller,” he says. “Our talented cast hasn’t even blinked in the face of the daunting challenge of performing in every scene. The kids are like, ‘What’s next? Bring it on, old man. Hurry up!’ Since January, the cast has been working at an amazing pace, with focus and true grit. We couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Disco Alice: The Wonderland Remix, adapted and directed by William Conrow
Synopsis: When 13-year-old Alice escapes a garden party, impulsively following a stressed-out White Rabbit down a rabbit hole, she enters an enchanted realm full of strange characters and maddening misadventures—all ruled by one very crabby Queen of Hearts. An irresistible 1970s-era soundtrack and a psychedelic design scheme take Lewis Carroll’s classic coming-of-age tale to a whole new level of fantasy and fun.
Run: March 1-3 and 8-10 in the Phoenix Theatre at Perseverance, 914 Third Street in Douglas.
Show times: 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Tickets: $15 for all ages. Seating in the Phoenix is very limited; advance reservations strongly recommended. Call (907) 463-TIXS or follow the ticket link on our website, www.ptalaska.org.
Q&A with the cast: Talkbacks with the Disco Alice company and creators will follow both Sunday matinee performances.
Parent advisory: Disco Alice is a nonstop performance in an intimate space, full of madcap action, loud music, strobe and other dramatic lighting effects that might be frightening for young children or those with sensory issues. Recommended for ages 6 and up.