'Theater that feels a bit like a dare': Metro's 'Wonderland' sets Alice on even more unusual journey
Audiences are collectively pretty familiar with falling through a rabbit hole to accompany a young girl named Alice on a strange trip involving everything from a queen to a cat to a jury composed of animals. But Metro Theater Company has added even more elements to Lewis Carroll’s classic story – in this case keyboarders, guitar players, bass players, an accordion, trumpet players and a clarinet, among others.
“It’s an interesting situation, because you have actors actually playing live instruments – everybody’s playing live, so there’s no pit, which is a little more [of a] challenge,” music director Lamar Harris said Tuesday on St. Louis on the Air. “It’s not just [learning] lines … dance moves and the normal type of stuff you would do just in a regular musical.”
Alongside director and choreographer Jamie McKittrick and Sankofa B. Soleil, who plays Alice in Metro’s “Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure” production currently playing at the Grandel, Harris joined host Don Marsh to discuss what sets Metro’s performance apart.
“It’s a take on the original story that’s been scored with a rock & roll theme, pretty much under the leadership of our wonderful director Jamie [McKittrick], who allowed me to [do] what I call a ‘Tony Stark’ – just pretty much take the music, throw it up in the air and kind of really rearrange it and really stretch it to have more of a modern-day feel,” Harris explained. “The original score is technically scored for a lot of different traditional instruments, but at the same time it has more of a B-52/Queen type feel. So I put it in a more modern-day [context] to have a little bit more of an OutKast [feel] … [and] a little spice of Lamar Harris in there.”
Soleil noted that their Alice character “isn’t a traditional Alice.”
“One, I’m African-American, so that’s the first take when you get to the play – you see that,” Soleil said. “This Alice, like the other Alice, goes on this adventure to find herself, to discover who she is, and she learns all these lessons through the other characters in the play. But she … is also learning how to conquer things via the musical instruments, via song.”
That’s a story thread that connects to Soleil’s own journey, one that has left them skilled as a musician on an unusually large number of instruments – roughly 30.
“My great-grandmother was a church pianist growing up, and so my first instrument was piano in church,” said Soleil, who plays everything from piano and electric guitar to djembe on stage during each “Wonderland” show this month. “And then I went from piano [to] congas, and I started playing vibraphone, and I always just wanted more and more.”
McKittrick acknowledged that Metro’s fresh take on the story of 7-year-old Alice is a particularly challenging production for the cast and crew but added that she wouldn’t have that any other way.
“I find a lot of value in having performances and theater that feels a bit like a dare to all of those who are involved in making it happen, because then we all have to rise to the occasion,” she said. “And then something unknown and magical can happen.”
While primarily aimed at young audiences, the production seems to be connecting with people of all ages, McKittrick said.
“Metro has a pretty incredible mission that’s about honoring the intelligence and wisdom of young people,” she explained. “However, I believe it’s something that parents could come and see [and also] really little ones could come see. My nephew came to see it, who just turned 5, and he sat the whole time and was bouncing and dancing.
“So we have something for everyone. I heard there were high school students there today [at the morning matinee], and they were super into it. There’s something for everyone … the story itself, the narrative, is what is important – it’s about a young woman finding her voice and being able to then have a positive impact on the world. So that’s, I think, fairly universal. But just in terms of the incredible mastery of skill that’s happening on the stage, everyone will be excited to see that.”
What: Metro Theater Company’s “Wonderland: Alice’s Rock & Roll Adventure”
When: Various dates and times through Sunday, Dec.30
Where: The Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, St. Louis
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.