GARDEN GROVE — After performing for seven years at numerous makeshift locations, Broadway on Tour children's theater has moved into a fine new home and is throwing one heckuva housewarming party.
It's "The Wizard of Wonderland," which mingles characters and plot lines from "The Wizard of Oz," "Alice in Wonderland" and even a smattering of "Jabberwocky" in a witty, whimsical show that, at last weekend's opening, went over just as well with preteens as it did with preschoolers. Launching Broadway on Tour as the Grove Theatre Center's resident children's theater company, "Wizard" continues through June 18.
Although anchored by characters and situations comfortably familiar to young children, "Wizard" is shot through with campy humor and tongue-in-cheek musical numbers to entice older audiences. It's a dicey combination, one that, in the wrong hands, could have fallen flat. But director Daniel Halkyard and his very talented cast of 8- to 18-year-olds make it sing.
In the opening scene, audiences meet Justin, a top-flight procrastinator trying desperately to put together a major book report the evening before it is due. With Mom and Dad breathing down his neck, he attempts to read "Alice in Wonderland" but falls asleep midway; an attempt to watch "The Wizard of Oz" is thwarted too.
Later that night, characters from both stories meet in Justin's dreams. In fact, they collide, and it's up to Justin to help sort out the pieces. The problem, of course, is that he doesn't know enough about either story to help the characters find their way toward their proper happily-ever-afters.
The villains are the only ones who have clear plans from the outset: The Queen of Hearts, naturally, wants Alice's head, and the Wicked Witch of the East has equally nasty plans for Dorothy. However, they do have a jurisdictional problem. It seems that for the moment, the girls and their gangs are holed up in the Tulgey Wood, home turf to Lewis Carroll's nightmarish fantasy Jabberwock (you remember the Jabberwock: " . . . with eyes of flame / Came whiffling through the tulgey wood / And burbled as it came!").
Halkyard generally has managed to attract admirable young actors to his productions, but this time he has really hit gold. Broadway on Tour veterans and newcomers alike have good grips on the personalities and mannerisms of their well-known characters. Some of the cast members--particularly Joel South as the Mad Hatter and Brigid Ward as the Queen of Hearts--use those personalities as jumping off points for their own wildly creative interpretations.
Tall and lanky, South has a wonderfully manic edge to his humor, reeling off into hysterical fits of riddling, punning and cracking wise. Ward's Queen is the grande dame of nut cases, a Norma-Desmond-meets-Freddy-Krueger kind of gal who can preside over a beheading or pose for a close-up at the drop of a hat--or a head, as the case may be. Heather Rogers has her cackle down cold as the Wicked Witch of the West--so cold, in fact, that at Saturday's show she sent one preschooler howling to the back of the house in fear.
With her long blond mane and a strong, sweet singing voice, Lauren Stanley is a picture-perfect Alice. Alistair Tober has just the right mix of bravado and uncertainty as the adolescent Justin. With Crystal Dancer's plucky Dorothy, the trio makes a fine team.
Karl Jurman's music runs the gamut from the typical we-can-make-it-if-we-all-work-together inspirational tune to some inspired comic numbers with wickedly clever lyrics, which the cast handles ably under John Massey Jr.'s musical direction. Dance sequences are inventive and well executed, especially considering the physical constraints of some of the costumes.
"Wizard" is performed on Tim Mueller's set for "Man of La Mancha," which the Theatre Center's Musical Theatre Company is staging. At times, the dark castle interior seems woefully out of step. Halkyard manages to work around it well, though, and the Queen's majestic entrance on the drawbridge to the strains of the MGM theme is nothing less than inspired. Sharell Martin's attractive costumes are by and large faithful re-creations of those worn by the characters in the film versions of these stories, right down to Dorothy's ruby-red slippers.
\o7 * "The Wizard of Wonderland," the Gem Theater at the Grove Theatre Center, 12852 Main St., Garden Grove. Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through June 18 (no performances May 27 and 28). $6. (714) 636-7213.\f7
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Justin Alistair: Tober
Dorothy Crystal: Dancer
Alice Lauren: Stanley
Mad Hatter: Joel South
Wicked Witch of the West: Heather Rogers
White Rabbit: Ashlee Gillespie
Dormouse: Brandon Wildish
Cowardly Lion: David Damico
Scarecrow: Jennifer Robinson
Tin Man: Andy Moore
Queen of Hearts: Brigid Ward
Jabberwocky/Henchman: Nickie Gentry
A Broadway on Tour production of a one-act play by Joseph Robinette, directed by Daniel Halkyard. Musical direction: John Massey Jr. Set: Tim Mueller. Costumes: Sharell Martin. Music: Karl Jurman.