Thu | Apr 19, 2018

'Alice' a delightful family musical

Published:Friday | February 1, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Peter Haley

Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer

The only reason you might not say the Jamaica Junior Theatre (JJT) is just like a family is that the 60-odd members, including adults, don't fuss and fight the way normal families do.

So, as usual, chatting and laughter predominated while the 50 JJT performers, children and young people aged 10 to 20 years, ate a meal between shows in the exhibition area of the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, University of the West Indies, Mona, on Saturday evening. They were remarkably energetic, considering that they had just finished a performance of Alice - The Musical, this year's hectic, two-hour production.

In another hour, they were due on stage again to sing, dance and act before another large audience. And this year, the audiences have been large, as has generally been the case since the group began its productions in 1984.

Peter Haley is Alice's director - and, in fact, the director of all the JJT annual productions since 1990. The earlier JJT musicals, including the first, Alice in Wonderland, had other directors.

Half of the current cast are children who had never been on stage before. Clearly, they were either all talented and disciplined youngsters or the several directors and assistant directors who guided them were very good at their jobs. Or both.

The directors other than Haley are musical director Danielle Steibel and choreographer Tony Wilson. The latter's assistant is Samantha Chin-Yee and other assistant directors are Jodi JoLung (Haley's assistant) and Matthew McKenzie, assistant musical director.

McKenzie is also co-producer of the show, along with Stiebel, who replaces longtime producer Douglas Bennett, chairman of the JJT's parent body, the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company (JMTC). In his message in the printed programme, Bennett notes that, last June, the JJT completed 50 productions (all of which he produced), in which more than 600 youngsters performed.

As Bennett passes on both the musical director's and the producer's baton, he can be proud of the work he did with those 600 young people and the 26 major awards the JJT has won in its 29 years of existence.

Excellent storyline

The storyline of Alice is excellent - unlike that of the LTM pantomime, Skoolaz (see my last review and the letter below to the playwright) - which is about a 16-year old girl asking a question so many teenagers ask: "Who am I?" Writers Roshane O. Miller and Samantha Chin-Yee have based their script on existing versions of the well-known Lewis Carroll children's story and so are not entirely original, audiences have been enjoying the product as much as the cast has been enjoying performing.

Justine Rookwood plays the title role and does a fine job as both actress and singer. She has the talent to do what others before her have done, move on from the JJT to a career in performing.

Of course, like so many other JJT past and present members, she may go to university and study something very different. Deandra Thomas, who vivaciously played the Red Queen the afternoon I saw the show, is a third-year medical student - and also does ballet and modern dance.

I was also impressed with Andrew Bailey as the Mad Hatter; he's very at ease onstage. David Andrew Reid looked too young to convince as Alice's father, Mr Charles Kingsley, but he, too, is an entertaining actor.

Jon Williams created the sound track for the show's many beautiful songs, all of them well-known items from numerous sources. They include No Matter What (from Beauty & the Beast), Alice's Birthday Welcome (new lyrics by Miller to a My Fair Lady tune), Welcome to Wonderland (from Wonderland, the Broadway musical), Journey to the Past (from Anastasia) and Seize the Day (from Newsies, the Broadway musical).

Cyrena Forbes, yet another JJT member who has moved up from performer to designer, makes her debut as set designer with Alice. Her sets, mainly a forest of giant flowers and toadstools and a moveable platform with the Red Queen's chair, are simple but attractive.

Carolyn Chin-Yee and Ayanna Dixon's costumes are in the tradition of the costume design award-winning JJT. They are spectacular, especially those worn by the ladies and gentlemen of London's high society to Alice's birthday party. All in all, Alice is a delightful show, by a "family" and for the family.

Reply to Gloudon

Dear Mrs Gloudon,

Re. Letter to the editor in Wednesday's Gleaner (January 30).

Like thousands of other Jamaicans, I admire Barbara Gloudon's journalistic pieces. In fact, I have been an admirer longer than most of her fans - more than 50 years, from her Stella columns onward. Her newspaper writings, like her comments on radio, are both witty and thoughtful.

However, like many others in the theatre community, a community to which we have both belonged from more than 50 years, I am not an admirer of most of her pantomimes. True, there have been a few good ones. Generally, though her characters are usually (and this year) "easily identifiable and lots of fun" in themselves, and though her scripts are replete with amusing one-liners, her stories tend to be weak - meaning shallow, episodic, drawn-out, lacking in plot and character development, and anticlimactic.

Her own adjective is "uncomplicated", but everyone knows that the best full-length plays and musicals have stories with complications. They are essential to good stories. Audiences delight in them.

And it is not contradictory, as Mrs Gloudon well knows, to like one aspect of a production but dislike another. Why should she suggest otherwise? Her letter is so logic-deficient and innuendo-filled that, as I read it, laughing more than I did during Skoolaz, I couldn't help thinking it was written with tongue in cheek.

But seriously, to Mrs Gloudon and other playwrights whose primary objective is to make audiences laugh - for this tends to "coarsen the sensibilities," as Rex Nettleford put it (of both writer and audience) - I earnestly commend Shakespeare's advice to theatre practitioners found in Act 3, Sc. 2 of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Every playwright, director and actor should read it regularly.

Through Hamlet, Shakespeare speaks of the importance of being truthful in theatre, of holding "the mirror up to nature". He warns against practitioners with "a most pitiful ambition", giving audiences just "dumb shows and noise". Overdoing things, he points out, "though it make the unskillful laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve".

Mrs Glouldon shows up the weakness of her case when she states that the "most ridiculous" aspect of my review was my critiquing Skoolaz and Basil Dawkins' Dangerous Ambitions in one column. She saw the venue as being "the only link" between them.

Surely she knows better. The number of thought links between any two objects in the universe is theoretically infinite and would be limited only by one's intelligence and imagination. Mrs Gloudon is well endowed with both.

Finally, unimportantly, since writers should always try new things, I remind her that Archie Lindo, Mervyn Morris and Norman Rae often critiqued more than one play (and/or event) in a single review.

Cho, Barbara, do better than that!