“Painted Alice” Reviews

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3 Comments on ““Painted Alice” Reviews

  1. Painted Alice Review

    Original musicals are hard to come by these days. The well of adaptation is dug every day and something fresh is harder to come by. Now here comes Painted Alice, a modernization of Lewis Caroll’s classic tale Alice in Wonderland. It sits in the middle of adaptation and an original story (as stated in the Director’s Note) and because of that it has trouble figuring out what it wants to be.
    Alice is a young painter struggling to succeed in the cutthroat world of art galleries and critics. She has been commissioned to paint for the ruthless art dealer Parker. After seeing her boyfriend Leverett at a gallery showing with painter she doesn’t like, she goes into frenzy. Seeking inspiration, Alice delves into her canvas into another world. While searching for a way out she comes across colorful characters that question who she is and what she’s doing with her career and her life.
    Painted Alice is such a frustrating musical because it has all this potential and talent behind it that never really seems to be going anywhere. The original music is good for spells and tedious in others. The character relationships are underdeveloped, particularly between Alice and Leverett. There are very few scenes involving just the two of them before the Wonderland bits and just have to take the cast’s word that these two are meant to be. We don’t really get their full story in favor of rushing into the Wonderland setting so Alice can come across these kooky characters.
    Doing any variation on Alice in Wonderland gives most people the idea that they have theatrical license to throw all sorts of experimental darts at the board and see if they’ll stick. That’s fine as long as it’s in service of a more overarching theme. Painted Alice seems unclear as to what its overlying motive is. It just seems like an excuse to have all these actors do some colorful and flamboyant performances. As I watched I kept thinking “Oh, that was cute,” as opposed to, “Oh, that really moved me.”
    What frustrated me the most is that the actors are so committed to the piece that they almost fool the audience into believing that the script was better than it actually was. Dana Reid had a fun presence as the show’s narrator who would pop in from time to time for a laugh. Tommy Hartnett’s physicality between the two characters he played is very funny and made me laugh a few times. Colin Sullivan as Leverett showed terrific range as he moved from romantic lead to silly foreigner to wacky prosecuting attorney. Candace Dornan as Alice was a rare performance to peg because she was good, but her faults lied more in how her character was written than in her actual performance.
    Alice in the original novel is a child and her constant questioning and defiance of Wonderland’s customs and beliefs stems from the bluntness that children have. Updating the character to be in her mid-20’s-early 30’s makes that harder to pull off and instead Alice is a much more passive character as opposed to the active child of the source material. Alice in Wonderland is filled with much more memorable characters than Alice herself, but at the same time Alice was still an active protagonist. The Alice in Painted Alice is surrounded with characters leagues flashier and more interesting than her, but she doesn’t really have an observable personality.
    I found myself questioning what was she learning to begin with? Every song and encounter was just teaching her the same thing. That art is a pretentious world and you should stop worrying about trying to impress people and do what makes you happy in your work. It’s a nice lesson, but it appeared to be something the Alice already knew before she went into the canvas. The musical went through a roundabout way to teaching the character something she was aware of and her sudden confidence boost felt sudden and lacking of a true arc to her character.
    Poking fun at the pretention of the art world isn’t that groundbreaking, but this play struggles so hard to mock pretention without looking back at itself. It constantly attacks the pretention of art critics and painters through vignette after vignette. In the great plays that showcase how pretentious an intellectual is like Arcadia or Red work because they show the honesty of those pretentious people and provide someone to challenge their beliefs. In this case it would be Alice, but she doesn’t really begin to fight back until the very end.
    Which makes me wonder what the point of the whole piece was. The actors looked like they were having more fun doing it than the audience did watching it. It is just one silly character after another and it just dragged on for too long before trying to get to its point. The best musicals deep down mean something more powerful than words and Painted Alice didn’t show that to me. There was one element near the beginning of the 2nd act, proposing that Alice may be dead that would have changed my entire opinion of the piece, but then it made a joke about it right after. It sapped the energy out of that premise in favor of a cheap laugh.
    Painted Alice isn’t a terrible production. Its actors are completely committed to the material and it’s infectious for a while. However, the musical suffers from a faulty script and unclear motivation. I would have liked to have seen more set up between Alice and Leverett to give it some stakes. The actors give their all and it’s an entertaining piece of theatre, but I walked out thinking “What’s the point?” In the middle of the first act, Alice was questioned as to why she was wasting everyone’s time with the truth. I sat looking back at the stage thinking the exact opposite. I wondered why we were going in circles instead of getting the real truth.

  2. Just a note here for anyone reading reviews in this particular thread- “Painted Alice” was presented here at KC/ACTF the evening before this year’s critics’ workshop began. Still, all of us in the workshop were fortunate enough to have seen it! This thread is for students in the workshop who would still like to post their thoughts on the show. Please understand that reviewers posting here are working without notes or any previous guidance about format, etc, and that responding to this show, since it played before we met, is completely voluntary. We were able to have a very interesting discussion about the show in Session One of the workshop and I know several students hoped for the opportunity to share their thoughts, however raw and rough the writing may be. Here’s the spot for that, and happy blogging to all! -Scott

  3. I had mixed expectations going in to see Painted Alice. I saw it advertised as a retelling of Alice in Wonderland with an older Alice. Though I tend to find great merit in dramatic adaptations of the Carroll work, this premise has been overdone almost to the point of cliché over the last decade, notably with Tim Burton’s film adaptation. I probably would have been even more turned off by the show’s premise had I known it was rooted in attacking pretentiousness in the art world, which has also become an almost clichéd topic in experimental theater. So I was delighted that despite having such an overdone premise, Painted Alice was a fresh and absorbing experience, offering intriguing perspectives on problems in the art world against a creative and unique reimagining of Wonderland.

    Perhaps the biggest surprise for me about the quality of Painted Alice was its score. Scoring a musical drama, using music composition to bring out emotionally intense characters and plots, is always a difficult task, and I usually expect productions of new musicals to require a great deal of revision. This, however, is my favorite new score I’ve heard since Next to Normal in 2006. Composer Michael Mahler’s music has a contemporary feel, influenced by rock and traditional sound but with a distinctive quality difficult to pin down into a genre. It might be fair to call this an alternative rock musical. Mahler roots his score in the intensity of rock music but also utilizes a catchy melodic quality akin to traditional Broadway fare. Throughout the entire week of this festival, I’ve had the songs stuck in my head, especially the main theme, “Bringing Yourself to Life (Come on Alice)”, which I have to refrain myself from singing out loud whenever I think about it. This is also a score focused on characterization, as a distinctive riff on the themes of the score accompanies each character and amplifies his or her emotional states.

    The quality of the acting also did a great deal to bring these characters to life. The characters were almost all delightfully animated and eccentric, the kind of cartoonish characters begging you to love watching them regardless of what they’re doing. Performances are almost all rooted in genuine dramatic intent, though, so the play retains a sense of verisimilitude, which is often difficult to accomplish in the high energy world of a musical. Notably, Danni Vitotino, Jr. gave a cheerfully flamboyant performance as a critic based on Carroll’s Caterpillar, with flowing choreography and grace in all his movements. Micaela Kluver’s antagonist based on the Queen of Hearts was an audience favorite, receiving an extended applause upon her penultimate entrance, having used a deep, perfectly positioned voice to ooze out the problems of her character.

    The only actor I had trouble empathizing with, at least in the first act, was Alice’s boyfriend played by Colin Sullivan. Early in the play, his actions seemed so nonspecific that I had trouble figuring out exactly what was going on in a few of his scenes. However, Sullivan completely turned around in Act II, playing more engagingly animated characters that were among my favorites in the play, while also performing his love scenes with a sweet sense of sincerity. It was a startling turnaround, and I wonder what fueled such a variance of quality from one act to the next.

    It’s refreshing to see all these elements coming together in a premiere production, and gives a lot of credit to its creators for coming so far with the material at only the first full production. I hope this show receives continued development in the near future. With so many commercially driven, familiar-sounding musicals on Broadway, we need more musicals with such distinct sounds like this one has. I hope it does well, wherever it may go.

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