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Hallucinogenic Alice (in Concert)

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You don't need to look far beyond the title of Alice in Concert to see a quagmire of potential problems. Elizabeth Swados took Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for her inspiration, not your paragon of cogency or coherence to begin with. By turning it into a loosely linked chain of songs, she further fragmented the dizzying tale of a pre-pubescent girleen's underground pursuit of a neurotic rabbit. Nostalgia for the 1960s must have really churning up in the Swados psyche, because she tossed in a few dollops of Carroll's Through the Looking Glass into her volatile, psychedelic stew.

Children's Theatre artistic director Alan Poindexter, having shown dubious judgment in selecting this 24-song playlist, does patch things up somewhat with a fine cast and the heroic exploits of scenic designer Jim Gloster. Gloster's work is particularly enchanting in simulating Alice's plunge into the rabbit hole and in the sequence of scenes capped by Humpty Dumpty's transformation into breakfast. The colossal bong that houses the Caterpillar is perhaps the best of Poindexter's vision. Conspiring with prop guru Peter Smeal, lighting wiz Eric Winkenwerder trains his A-game on black-light evocations of the Cheshire Cat and the Jabberwocky.

But the excesses of costume designer Connie Furr-Soloman misfire badly. The dominatrix costume concocted for the Duchess takes the prissy Carroll into the realm of kink, and the jammies for the embodied Cheshire Cat look like they were devised for the Cowardly Lion in a high school production of The Wiz. We're far better off when Solomon observes tradition for the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, and the four Queens.

Ashley Bradley has had her ups and downs over the past year or so in musicals at CPCC, wonderful as the virgin whore Philia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and lackluster as brainiac Gabriella in High School Musical. As Alice, Bradley figures in two-thirds of the two dozen songs, but beyond her costume, I never saw anything that was convincingly childlike. Equally generic -- but a tad more irritating -- is Robbie Jaeger's brief embodiment of the Cheshire Cat.

We probably need to delve into a bygone decade to find a Steven Ivey performance that dips into mediocrity. Here he doubles with customary brilliance as the Mad Hatter and Humpty Dumpty. Nicia Carla has the perfect pharmaceutical regality for the Caterpillar and partners nicely with Barbi Van Schaick in the Tweedledee-Tweedledum duets. But the true bright spots are Mark Sutton's fly-bys as the White Rabbit, Amy Van Looy's domineering coloratura Red Queen, and Jon Parker Douglas's three wildly diverse incarnations -- as the Baby, the Dormouse, and the White Queen.

In the manner of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Swados goes through a vast range of rhythms to simulate the epic scope of her heroine's journey. "Drink Me" rocks a little, and the ensuing "Good-Bye Feet" reggaes. There are jazzy samba elements to "Wow Wow Wow," a taste of country western at "The Tea Party," and a jarring shift from barbershop to opera in "White Roses Red." All of the songs in this Alice sound as if they sprang from a computer, with only the slightest intrusion of a human heart.

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