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THEATER REVIEW : An 'Alice' That Delivers Wit, Silliness

January 19, 1994|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Clever clowning and buoyant silliness highlight "Alice and the Wonderful Tea Party," the latest family production from the Actors Repertory Theatre at the Santa Monica Playhouse, where the nonsense is nonstop and the Queen of Hearts is not what he . . . er, she seems.

A professional ensemble of six romps through this musical tale about a grown-up Alice (Cydne Moore), who returns to her half-forgotten Wonderland where old friends turn out to be as odd and "contrarywise" as ever.

Alice is immediately recruited to find the tea for the Queen of Heart's tea party because Tweedle Dee (Cheryl Moffatt) and Tweedle Dum (Heather Ross) have eaten up all the refreshments. If Alice fails, "off with her head," threatens the very large Queen with the deep voice (James Cooper, an amusing sight in ropes of pearls and voluminous skirts).

The clowning is both physical and verbal, appealing to a wide age range. Authors and co-directors Chris De Carlo and Evelyn Rudie get a lot of mileage out of well-timed groaners--Queen: "Answer the door!" Lady-in-Waiting (Moffatt): "What's it asking?"--and witty musical wordplay.

In one of several rapid-fire numbers, Alice and the Wonderland gang discover a cornucopia of "tea," from "frugality, civility, enormity and absurdity" to Newton's "gravity" and the Old Woman in the Shoe's "fertility."

Rudie's lyrics (she also wrote the music) are nothing if not eclectic--while painting roses, the Queen's pages' bouncy duet refers to Cubism, Impressionism, Art Deco and El Greco--but the comic delivery earns laughs from the youngest viewers, even when the words pass over their heads.

The cast is polished, energetic and good-natured; the show has an appealing simplicity, despite its verbal gymnastics.

Ashley Hayes and Moffatt did the vivid costumes; Timothy Chadwick designed the simple, but satisfying rose-themed set and James Cooper's lively light design enhances the action.

* "Alice and the Wonderful Tea Party," Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica, Saturdays-Sundays, 1 and 3 p.m. through Feb. 13. $8; (310) 394-9779, Ext. 2. Running time: One hour, 10 minutes.

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