Northwestern Press

Thursday, November 21, 2019
Eleanor Holdridge, Director Eleanor Holdridge, Director
Renee McFillin (Alice) Renee McFillin (Alice)
Stephanie Hodge (Cheshire Cat) Stephanie Hodge (Cheshire Cat)

‘Alice in Wonderland’ opens season at PSF

Friday, June 1, 2018 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

A feisty Alice who lands in a colorful, oversized Wonderland will take children on a whimsical journey in “Alice in Wonderland,” the playful children’s show that opens the 27th season June 1 of the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival (PSF).

“The story is a beautiful adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s books, trimming out some elements of the story and concentrating on the others,” says award-winning director Eleanor Holdridge, who makes her directorial debut at PSF.

The stage adaptation by Michele L. Vacca includes familiar characters: the grinning Cheshire Cat, the perpetually late White Rabbit, the crazy Mad Hatter, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum and the larger-than-life Queen of Hearts.

Holdridge says they decided to pay homage to the book’s Victorian era roots with the set and costumes.

Set designer Steve TenEyck worked with her to create a small Victorian setting, invoking a room for the beginning when Alice, played by Renee McFillin, is in the real world.

“Instead of setting it outside, it takes place in a glass house or garden room,” Holdridge says. “Clocks tick and everything is brown and boring. Suddenly, the rabbit appears through a window, and Alice chases after it.”

She says the play uses perspective, light and sound to give children the feeling of Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

“The goal is to make it immediate for the children who will be watching it, but preserve the whimsy and wit and rich tradition of the book,” she says.

After Alice falls down the rabbit hole, the audience and Alice find themselves in a world with giant flowers and brilliantly-colored lights. Props are over-sized and brightly-colored and everything is just a little off.

Holdridge says she and costume designer Amy Best came up with whimsical costumes that have a bit of contemporary mixed with Victorian influences for the Wonderland characters.

“We wanted to make bold statements,” Holdridge says. “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are dressed like snooty prep-school children, the Dormouse, Hatter and Hare are in a wild cacophony of color, with elements of contemporary bohemian style, and the Queen and her court look like a prom mixed with playing-card images.”

Sound designer Justin Propper created a leitmotif for each character from the White Rabbit’s ticking clock to something jazzy for the very cool Caterpillar, a mad Viennese waltz for the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and haughty music for the Queen.

The cast introduces the festival’s 2018 Young Company, which is made up of DeSales University theater majors and recent graduates.

In addition to McFillin, the cast includes Stephanie Hodge (Cheshire Cat), and Anelise Diaz, Amy Rose Johnson, Ethan Larsen, Megan Lomax, Kellan McMichael, Bo Sayre, Andrew Scoggin, Alexandra Séman, Jahlil Younger, and Mark Yowakim.

During the PSF summer season, the Young Company will perform in multiple productions and attend master classes.

Holdridge says those chosen to be company members were the most inventive and collaborative in the auditions.

“With only two weeks to get an hour-long show up with so many elements, it’s almost impossible to do so without the imagination and invention of the actors,” she says.

Holdridge sees the story as being about self-sufficiency and trusting your own sense of logic and ethics.

“So many crazy things happen to her [Alice] on her journey into a strange new world,” says Holdridge.

“The creatures are rude, inconstant and demanding to her, but she manages to maintain her own moral compass, striving to do the right thing and to be polite, even while she stands up for herself.

“She even stands up for others, aiding the Cheshire Cat and the Knave from the caprices of the Queen.”

Holdridge hopes that girls, particularly, who attend the show see that it is good to act with kindness and respect all creatures but be strong when it is important.

The show, which takes place in the intimate Schubert Theatre, puts children right in the middle of the action with on-stage carpet seating.

Alice will ask them which way to go when she is lost. The Duchess and Cook will sing to them, and the King will enlist them as a jury.

After performances, children may meet the actors and get photos and autographs.

A “Relaxed Performance,” 10 a.m. June 29, provides a sensory-friendly experience for those with sensory, learning and communication differences.

An American Sign Language and Audio Described performance for those who are hearing-impaired or sight-impaired, is at 10 a.m. July 28.

“Alice in Wonderland,” 10 a.m. select days, June 1 - Aug. 4, Schubert Theatre, Labuda Center for the Performing Arts, DeSales University, Center Valley. Tickets: Labuda lobby box office, DeSales University, 2755 Station Avenue, Center Valley;; 610-282-WILL (9455)