Photo by Jen Semm
You’ll be wowed by this Alice in Wonderland
How many plays can tout an executive producer who worked on world tours with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Michael Flatley?
Ethan Walker, who launched “Alice in Wonderland: Live on Stage” as a quality production in Brisbane, Australia to entertain schoolchildren on holiday, then saw its acclaimed reception expand into a tour, worked with these two legends. Walker, the executive producer of Rapidfire International Inc., also brought “IRELAND – The Show” to Patchogue Theatre in 2013. “Alice in Wonderland: Live on Stage” is scheduled for Saturday, April 8 at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, with two performances at 2 and 7 p.m. Walker spoke with the Long Island Advance during the play’s run in Wichita, Kan.
LONG ISLAND ADVANCE: Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts had an exhibit on Alice and Lewis Carroll that finished last January after several months. Most people know the story about “Alice in Wonderland,” but what makes it so special? Is it the whimsy, fantastic characters, humorous dialogue?
ETHAN WALKER: I think a big part is the dialogue. If you’ve read his books, nothing makes sense but then it really does. It was my favorite book growing up and when we commissioned the script, we wanted to stay true to the work. We didn’t want to make it into a musical, so it’s a play. Initially, we were very concerned because it was a risk to use Lewis Carroll’s language. We thought, ‘will children understand this?’ But we had the expectation that they would. They loved it and the risk paid off.
LIA: Who is the bossiest? And what is the most humorous scene?
EW: The Queen of Hearts, played by a male, and also the caterpillar, we’ve made him a kind of retired sergeant. In English traditional theatre, the villain is always played by a man. As for the most humorous, my favorite scene is definitely the mad tea party. It’s so crazy and over the top, but at the same time very choreographed. We have a massive mushroom that turns into the tea table; another mushroom turns into the queen’s throne. It was a very intelligent decision for our set designers to make things become more magical.
LIA: Your costumes are beautiful and elaborate. Where were they made? Also the set — I think people need to hear how awesome it is.
EW: The costumes were very expensive. A lot of things I’ve noticed with children’s shows are that they are low budget and our biggest challenge was to create this beautiful production that was affordable for families. We had an Emmy Award winner, designer Diana Eden, make them in Las Vegas and Australia. We paid attention to the detail; for instance, Alice has glass buttons on her dress. In the Victorian times, buttons were made of glass and we wanted to stay true to the era. There was a lot of thought put into each aspect of the production. In the beginning, we were only going to do a show for a short time. We were in a small theatre in Brisbane [Australia] with 200 seats last year, during school holiday. Three months later, it’s in a 3,000-seat theatre and we had three months to make it bigger and grander. We thought we’d only make a little money, but we toured in September and October and then came to Los Angeles in January and wound up being the highest-grossing show for the last five years.
LIA: You have a handful of actors playing 20 roles. Even one of your producers, Madison Dylan, who plays Alice, is in the cast, and you’ve said that the play is extremely visual. Talk about that.
EW: We have a mix of actors who become puppeteers and you really have to find an actor who can operate a puppet that can look real, so we cast in Los Angeles and New York. Sometimes you have an idea of what a character can be, but an actor walks in with something different and they get the job because of doing something you didn’t think was possible.
LIA: Give me an example of one of the more riveting scenes.
EW: I think when Alice meets the caterpillar. The costumes are stunning and have that wow factor. There are these mushrooms they sit on and they become different things, like the table for the mad tea party and then a throne. When we started in Brisbane, there wasn’t any room to bring props on or off stage, which was an incredible challenge. So our director thought, what if we had big mushrooms turn into other objects? When we were upping the scale, we had the flexibility to bring in new set pieces, but we still kept these mushrooms. You definitely lose a lot of sleep on how can you can pull it off and then you make it work. We had an incredible team working together.
LIA: Also, your cast and team is very diverse; your co-producer is Zachary Lieberman from Los Angeles, graphic designer Yi Ling is from Singapore, co-producer Madison Dylan is from Kansas, costume designer Diana Eden is from Canada and your director Penny Farrow is from Australia, as are you. Would you elaborate?
EW: We have two casts in America we work with. We had a black female mad hatter in New York but couldn’t find another with similar talents in Los Angeles. We’re looking to go to Dubai in September. So with that, the biggest hurdle is the Queen of Hearts, which we have as a man dressed as a woman. Although the story is culturally embraced, when you go to another country you have to look at what works.
LIA: Discuss the life-size puppets and the transformation that happens when the puppeteer brings it to life.
EW: It’s like “The Lion King.” The white rabbit, for example, is a female actress and the puppet is an extension of her body. You still see the actress, but it’s like one entity and you find yourself looking at the puppet. She has a rabbit’s bottom and a royal blue top because she works for the queen, so her costume is blue and gold.
LIA: What’s next?
EW: We’re doing the show at the Patchogue Theatre and will tour a bit; we’re touring the U.S. in January next year. Initially, we made the show for children. But adults can come on their own and walk away with the same experience. That, actually, has generally surprised us.
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