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Jenkins on Wonderland: 'Alice' at the Magik

While you all were lining up to see Gregg Barrios's Rancho Pancho at the Jump-Start (sold-out Saturday night, and a Current critic's pick to boot), theater critic Tom Jenkins went to see the closing weekend of another SA original at the Magik. Here's his report:

Your intrepid critic-in-the-trenches managed to catch the final 'adult' performance of Alice, A Rock Opera at Magik Theater this weekend, a joint creation of Richard Rosen and Wink Kelso. The verdict? There's a lot of enthusiasm -- and a lot of noise -- but ultimately the production needs stronger direction and absolutely more variety in its story-telling. The first half hour starts off promisingly, with an unexpectedly long exploration of Charles Dodgson's -- a.k.a. Lewis Carroll's -- infatuation with a 12-year-old girl, Alice Liddell. Though it never quite morphs into Pedophilia: The Musical!, it comes close (close enough that the family sitting in front of me walked out. Who knew that the Magik could be more offensive than e.g. the Jump-Start? A wonderland, indeed.). The creators have intuited that the conflict between Dodgson's ardor and society's disapproval is inherently theatrical; sure, it's also creepy and uncomfortable (did I really just watch a production number called "Child Friends"?), but that's theater for you.

So it's disheartening that the next hour-and-a-half's descent into Wonderland is less compelling. The whole show's been configured as a sung-through concert (a la Jesus Christ Superstar), complete with psychedelic lighting and an onstage band. Visually, however, nearly every song's the same: a mostly blank set with a wailing soloist and a bevy of gyrating choristers, only occasionally syncing to actual choreography. The show is fun for a while -- the energy level is high -- but at least a quarter of the lyrics are swallowed up by the dreadful audio mix (are they singing about Jabberwocky or Abercrombie?), and the plot is un-involving: too many peripheral characters, not enough Alice. Kelso tries to liven things up by penning the occasional pastiche song -- the Mock Turtle's soul-inflected turn is smashing -- but it's not enough: Every scene blurs into the next. By the time Alice croons "Where Do We Go From Here," the answer is more than obvious: It's time to go home.

It's not that rock operas are a dead genre. Zach Scott's production of Daniel Johnston's Speeding Motorcycle last year demonstrated how much zip is left in the form. But Speeding Motorcycle was intimate and focused, with an emphasis on story-telling, and full of compassion for the toll of depression and neurosis. Overblown and overloud, Alice, A Rock Opera seems to lose its way early, content to dazzle with lights and guitars, but never quite surviving its trip down the rabbit hole.

-- Thomas Jenkins

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