In Alice in Wonderland, the mix of music, acting, images, stagecraft and lighting left room only to enjoy the challenges before the protagonist and commiserate with her about them. The obstacles laid at Alice’s feet were artfully slung with words from daunting creatures reveling in how well they could trip up the unfortunate young lady. A few were helpful and friendly to Alice, but not for long: “It’s really dreadful the way these creatures argue,” says Alice at one point.

Before the play even started I noticed that newspaper was used to create a fantasy so realistic I will forever question the necessity for expensive sets. Led by volunteer Production Designer David Wilson, Design Assistants Bengi Zeybek, Craig Waterman, Rachael Garbowski, Adam Alexander, and Mike Weber put together these fantastically creative images. Then Alice and her sister appeared, and the well-known story unfolded: Alice (Kelsey Jones) was the perfect girl, right down to her bright yellow stockings and orange shoes. Jones’s colorful yet “normal” dress was an effective contrast to other actors’ out-of-this-world creations of more subdued and often black and white color schemes. Again with copious amounts of volunteer hours, the costumes were designed and executed by Kat Alexander. 

Like all the artists of the evening, Ms. Jones was impressive. In her case, delivering the length and width of so many dialogs with such professional gusto was enjoyable and amazing. 

Every actor portrayed his or her Fantasy-Self in a wonderfully convincing way. Who’d have thought one could look at a person dressed as a turtle and really feel like she WAS a turtle! How Ms. Cora Comstock moved her head, neck, and body in such a methodical fashion conjured up images of her viewing several Discovery shows to watch turtles in very slow motion in preparation for her role. Bill Trevaskis became the most perfectly arrogant and disdainful Caterpillar through movement, voice, costume, and technique manipulated by puppeteer James Blair. The Caterpillar costume designed by David Wilson was so incredible the audience applauded before the scene even started. The accompanying trombone music written by Megan Goodell and played by Maddie Hallowell helped set just the right mood.

Comstock and Trevaskis were not alone in their commitment to character. I watched every single face carefully during the climatic trial. In such group scenes some actors, feeling lost in the crowd, might be tempted to “just stand there”. No way, no how, not this professional crew: Kennedy Cooper was truly a QUEEN of all Hearts, announcing “Off with her head!” with a dismissive wave of her stately, long-black gloved arm. Kennedy’s grandfather, David Cooper, was ever so much the King of Hearts, complete with an elaborate mustache and boisterous voice. Every expression, each gesture, every set of body language indicated those on stage truly were Dodo (Catherine Corson),White Rabbit (Jack Walker), Mad Hatter (Joseph Santee), March Hare (Dave Macy), Gryphon (Patricia Lannon), Cook (Connor Macy), Duck (2nd grader Katherine White), Two of Spades (Adrianna Ames), Cheshire Cat (Maddie Hallowell), Dormouse (Macy Goodell), Knave of Hearts (Anthony “Rico” Rattina), Seven of Spades (Tristan Carrier), Queen of Hearts, King of Hearts, Mock Turtle, and the Duchess (Brandy Dupper-Macy). Connor Macy, the evening’s youngest actor and one of several who played two speaking parts, exhibited such intent and interest it was as if he was observing a real trial with real consequences. Connor also displayed great talent as an anxious little eaglet terrified of the mere idea of a cat, and a committed cook heck-bent on doing a good job cleaning up the soup ingredients between scenes.

The orchestra was led by music director and composer Megan Goodell, who, in just the 8th grade, already has piles of impressive original music to her name. Megan wrote original scores for nine instruments for the entire performance. Megan and nine other skilled musicians, including her younger sister Mya on four instruments and sixth grader Ashlynn Ames on trumpet, kept the flow of the show going through exquisitely well-matched music that heightened emotions and drama. The orchestra played so well and in such precise connection to the scenes I would sometimes forget they were even there! This dreamy, unreal anonymity added to the enjoyment of being wrapped up in Alice’s wonderland, where the wild and fantastic creatures spoke through music as well as dialog. Bengi Zeybek on piano, Natalie Carrier, clarinet, David Macy, trumpet (and acting), Maddie Hallowell (trombone, ukulele and acting), Macy Goodell (clarinet and acting), and Christie Hallowell on violin filled out the rest of the musical group.

As testament to the entertainment value of this Alice in Wonderland, the play immediately hooked in four young boys in the first row, the only ones in front of me the first night: They grinned as wide as the Cheshire cat, giggled, or laughed out loud at the shenanigans the hapless Alice was forced to endure. There was ongoing, spontaneous eruptions of laughter and applause from the rest of the audience. The myriad of fanciful dream-creations thoroughly captured the imagination of audience members. Outside of the Waterman’s Community Center – at the gym, on the street, and at home – I learned of several children and adults who wanted to attend the show a second time.

In addition to the exemplary directing and producing, exquisite acting, wondrous musical talent, creative stage and costume design, lighting skill, even the well-written program and posters, there is one more thing to say about Alice in Wonderland: Everyone participating in this play is very busy – even without the play! I mentally clicked through those of the cast and contributors I know. Ms. Naliboff skillfully directed this show on top of educating 13 grades, attending community meetings as a board member, and giving private music lessons – and that’s only the small part of her life I know anything about. I also understand, for example, that multiple-casted (Frog Footman and the Knave of Hearts) Anthony “Rico” Rattina is a full time high school student, member of the rowing team, and he works at the Nebo Lodge – and that’s only a small part of his life that I know about. “Impressive, dedicated, inspirational” are just a few of the words that come to mind when thinking about this type of commitment to the arts. 

Therefore, to the very busy and talented director Naliboff, music sensation Megan Goodell, production designer David Wilson and his team, costume designer Kat Manock Alexander, lighting designer Louis Carrier, puppeteer James Blair, production manager Lisa Shields, and rest of the cast and crew totaling nearly 40 volunteers who made the North Haven’s Alice in Wonderland such a smashing success, my “Hatter” goes off to you.

A reprise of North Haven’s Alice and Wonderland is anticipated in the summer of 2011. A DVD of the show is available at the Waterman Center on North Haven.