BU students bring ‘Wonderland’ to life

Reviewed by Sarah Kuras

Throughout my years as a student, both undergraduate and graduate, I have seen many Binghamton University theater productions. Never have I seen such a creative, whimsical and hysterical show as the current  presentation of Alice in Wonderland.

As part of an upper-level theater class, “Devising Alice in Wonderland,” students of all disciplines — music, theater, choreography, set design — studied original documents and pieces inspired by the works Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and came together to create this new, wonderful stage adaptation. Professor Michael F. Toomey taught the class and served director of the play, which opened last weekend (April 27, 28).

As a fan of Lewis Carroll’s books, I was curious to see how undergraduates would adapt his stories into a live theater production. I found myself laughing with every twist and turn and was impressed with the students’ ability to portray Wonderland on stage. Overall, the acting was  good, although some spoken lines were unconvincing. The choreography was incredible, and the set, props and costumes were a perfect fit. The set demonstrated the students’ creativity. The cast utilized staircases, ladders, windows, math equations and a spinning board to portray a truly eccentric world.

Laura Potel starred as Alice, portraying the y0ung yet wise child exploring  a new upside-down world. Inspired by her teacher, Charles Dodgson (Andrew Bryce), she embarked son an adventure through the rabbit hole to follow the White Rabbit (Njideka Agwuna). By confronting her fears, other sides of herself (Suzannah Herschkowitz) and, of course, logic, Alice made her way through time, language and place.

Students wrote and performed the musical accompaniment as “the JaberRockies” (Ilyssa Baine, Steve Tarnow, Steve Maffia and Dustin Hirthler). Through a multitude of genres, they presented creative lyrics to help move the story along. Some of the singing by the cast members was lackluster, however, and, at times, not on pitch.

One standout scene was “D.O.D.O.S,.”  in which the Distinguished Organization of Died-Off Species participate in the Caucus Race, led by the Dodo (Maureen Mines). With delightful costumes, imitations of animal noises and a stunning visual display of movement and flashing lights, the ensemble fought each other to the finish line. Another stand-out scenes: “Mock Turtle Soup,” “Imaginary Numbers” and “The Jabberwocky.”

In “Mock Turtle,” the Duchess (Hirthler), Jeffrey (Jake Wentlent) and Alice sent all common knowledge of child-raising out the window in a hilarious new take on a cooking show — complete with song and dance. The drag role of the Duchess was suitably over-the-top. At the end of the cooking show, “The Daily Duchess,” Alice was handed a baby, which turned into a pig. Then, the Cheshire Cat (Bobby Daglio) explained in song that “We’re All Mad Here.”

After Alice was snatched through the looking glass by Anti-Alice, she had to confront “Imaginary Numbers,” made-up words, portmanteaus, a moving shape and a mimsy tove that turned into the Jabberwocky. In the final battle with strobe lights and amazing movement, the champion defeated “The Jabberwocky.” Since I cannot accurately describe the mimsy tove, I recommend you see the show yourself.

My favorite scene was “Meeting the Mad Hatter & March Hare.” At the topsy-turvy table, the Mad Hatter (Wentlent), March Hare (Tarnow) and the Dormouse (Kaylin Hawkins) were completely in character — completely mad and completely funny. With flawless choreography, the characters swung the table around, raced across the stage and executed their lines in perfect time.

From the time she first set foot in Wonderland, Alice wished to make her way to a beautiful garden. This garden belonged to the King of Hearts (Alex Korn Berg) and his queen (Lindsay Ryan), who thrilled the audience in the scene “A Game of Croquet.” Ryan’s skills at Irish step dancing were showcased as she bent the rules and broke hearts in order to win. In the course of the show, Alice met other characters, was serenaded by talking flowers (Kaylin Hawkins, Emily Rellis and Arshia Panicker), witnessed the fall of Humpty Dumpty, saw the sentencing of the Red Knight (Erik Young) and found her true love in the Knave of Hearts (Rudy Bamenga).

I hope theBU Theater Department is inspired by this work to allow students more creativity and flexibility in future productions. It is apparent there is much talent at BU that only needs to be cultivated.

Alice in Wonderland continues at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday (May 4, 5) and 2 p.m. Sunday (May 6) in the Watters Theater of BU’s Fine Arts Building. Call 777-ARTS for tickets.

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