Sunday, May 16, 2021

"Wonderland" by Collide Theatrical Dance Company outside the James J. Hill House

Oh happy day - outdoor theater has returned! Kicking off a great year of outdoor performances*, Collide Theatrical Dance Company (who also did an outdoor show last year) is presenting their take on Alice in Wonderland outdoors at the James J. Hill House and Mill City Museum. Over the last eight years, Collide has created original jazz dance musicals set to a soundtrack of well-chosen pop music, and WonderLand continues that tradition. Even better, this one is performed at a gorgeous outdoor location, behind the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue in St. Paul overlooking the Mississippi River valley (and later this month, the Mill City Museum). It's a wonderful step back into the reopening of our vital preforming arts community. Click here for more info and to purchase tickets for an outdoor performance or to watch the show virtually.

the cast of WonderLand (photo courtesy of Collide)
Created by Artistic Director Regina Peluso and choregraphed by the company, WonderLand reimagines the classic Alice in Wonderland tale as a doctor and his patients in a psychiatric hospital, or madhouse in the lingo of the story. With recorded voiceover (you may recognize the voice of #TCTheater actor Ryan Colbert), the show tells the story of each of the familiar seeming patients, the White Rabbit (Rush Benson), Caterpillar (Renee Guittar), the Cheshire Cat (Chelsea Rose), the Mad Hatter (Patrick Jeffrey), the Red Queen (Heather Brockman and Regina Peluso at alternating performances), and Alice herself (Miranda Shaughnessy). The doctor (Jarod Boltjes) finds a diagnosis for each of his patients, and even for himself. Eventually he realizes that his need to fix everyone is a form of madness too, and isn't everyone a little bit mad, or odd, or weird? Of course, there's a difference between the unique eccentricities that make us human and real mental illness that requires treatment, but the message of the show is to embrace our weirdness and not worry about being "normal," because what does that mean anyway, especially as we climb our way out of a year-plus hole of isolation and fear?

the stage (photo credit @cherryandspoon Instagram)
The cast performs on a black and white checkerboard floor, with charming props like plastic tea sets, an etch-a-sketch, and decorated pill bottles. Sitting up close in the sun, I was amazed by the attention to detail on the costumes, which are reminiscent of the iconic characters but with funky, modern styling. The seven performers are all fantastic dancers, who also convey their characters' emotions strictly through movement and facial expressions, endearing us to each of these weirdos. Due to the limiations of the time and space, the dancers perform to recorded music instead of the usual fabulous live band and singers, which is acceptable under the circumstances. As usual, the song choices are spot on, from familiar pop songs to the more obscure, and really help to tell the story.

If you're like me, it feels a little scary to start doing things and seeing people again, even though the science tells us it's fairly low risk for the vaccinated (Minnesota friends, go here now to get your vaccine if you haven't yet). But the lovable oddballs of WonderLand show us that it's OK to feel scared and awkward and different, because everyone does in their own way. And let's face it, the experiences of the last 14 months or so have definitely felt like going down the rabbit hole. This show is a safe, distanced, outdoor way to begin a return to life above ground.

WonderLand continues at the JJ Hill House through the end of the month, and moves across the river to the Mill City Museum in June.

*For a full list of outdoor performances in 2021, click here.