Have Twins, Will Travel

Wheelock Family Theatre – ALICE

Boston, Mass – We had so much fun seeing Finding Neverland at the ART, that we decided to further explore the world of musical theater. Our neighbor recommended the Wheelock Family Theatre, a professional, non-profit theater for kids.

What? A professional, non-profit theater for kids! I always marveled at the amazing variety of children’s theater in Moscow. Could it be that we have the same options here?

Well, I don’t think there is a cat theater in Boston, but apparently there is a professional, non-profit musical theater for kids. We took the twins to see ALICE, based on Louis Carroll’s books. I have since learned that this show was written, co-composed and directed by Andrew Barbato, a local actor who was trained in community theater and now — at the tender age of 24 — is doing his own thing.

We sat right up front, which was cool, but the theater is so intimate that I think the kids were captivated no matter where they were sitting. And actually, we ended up being right under the speakers, so it was too loud. But it was fun when the White Rabbit scurried down the aisle and squeezed past us in the row. (And didn’t that startle the dozing dad next to us!)

We had watched Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland in the days leading up to the play, so the kids would be familiar with the story. This would prove to be useful, but also confusing. Of course the Wheelock production was different than the Disney version: the characters didn’t look the same, the music was different, and the plot line was different. The Queen of Hearts never once said “Off with her head!” In fact, the plot line was just plain difficult to follow — but the story takes place in a fantastical, incomprehensible dream world, so maybe that’s what they were going for.

Wheelock’s production turns the classic into a coming-of-age story. It takes place on Alice’s 13th birthday, when her mother is forcing her to give up her childhood fantasies and get dressed up and act like a proper lady and take responsibility. Alice is resisting, and runs away to her fantasy world. On her adventure, she grapples with the challenges of growing up and comes to terms with her mother’s vulnerabilities as well her own. It’s a sweet idea that tries to add some “sense” to the nonsensical original.

The individual performances were quite good. I especially enjoyed the fight scene between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, who sing–even as they battle–about how they will always be brothers. I’m sure the twins did not appreciate this as much as I did (but I hope someday they will).

ALICE was not Broadway-caliber theater; nor does it pretend to be. But it was a fun, funny adventure that kept a room full of kids entertained for two straight hours (even if some of the adults had faded).

The twins enjoyed the show, but after two hours they were definitely done. Therefore, we did not take advantage of one of Wheelock’s coolest features, which is the “Extra! Extra!” program, offering workshops and events before or after every performance. The Friday-night workshops sound awesome for older children. After matinees, they have behind-the-scenes talks by directors and designers, or meet-and-greet with the cast. It’s a clever way to capture the attention of young people and turn them into theater-lovers. We’ll definitely be back to Wheelock.