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Fantasy Takes Center Stage

Transformation Into Three-Dimensional World For Local Live Theatres
By Barry Shuck

The world of fantasy has never been more prevalent. Movies based on trendy comic book characters and 3-D cartoons are theatre staples, video game sales are at an all-time high, and virtual online games such as CityVille or Mafia Wars are additive on sites like Facebook.

The most fashionable way to locate a lifelong partner is no longer the bar scene, but on the Web at any number of dating sites that allow the user to become taller, slimmer and generate more money than in his reality world.
With this in mind, local live theatre houses have taken note and inserted into their production line-up plays with the imagination in mind.

Pensacola Little Theatre (PLT) is serving up an alternate world with the play “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” This production is about the famous Alice character from “Alice in Wonderland” and is a must-see for the enthusiast of the peculiar and whimsical.

“Around each corner is a surprise; some are silly and fanciful, while others can be a little bit scary,” explained director Stephen C. Lott. “Each character has a unique costume custom designed to capture the spirit of their character.”

This play is actually the sequel to the original renowned “Alice in Wonderland” story. Most folks have never realized that a sequel was ever written, much less made into a play. In fact, an animated movie based on the novel was released in 1987 with the voice talents of Phyllis Diller and Jonathan Winters. It is also a well-known fact that several of the original Alice characters have been depicted in adaptations worldwide, with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee the most popular.

In this adaptation, most live theatre patrons can share in Alice’s exploration of the Looking-Glass World given that the storyline is not that well known.

“For that hour and a half, you have to throw out every prescribed visual projection and just use your imagination,” surmised cast member Maureen McNeill, who plays the Red Queen. “Younger audience members can enjoy the visual experience of different sights and sounds, while adults can flex their brain bits trying to catch all the jokes.”

In the plot, Alice once again discovers a delightful and enchanting place that is full of an assortment of characters and fairy-tale adventures. In this alternate world, everything is reversed, in disarray and upside down. In fact, Alice must trek across this new land—disguised as a giant chess board—in order to become a queen. Along the way, she encounters characters such as Humpty Dumpty and the terrible creature known as the Jabberwocky.

With such a fantasy world, elaborate costumes and complex sets would be challenging for most live theatre venues, but at PLT, they answered the question, “How exactly do you make life-size, living, breathing, talking chess pieces?”
There is a secret ingredient, and that component is someone named Jeannie Atwell.

“The costumes are a critical element to creating the characters on stage,” Lott admitted. “My costume designer Jeannie Atwell is an extraordinary artist who paints and sculpts with cloth. I am so fortunate to have a team of amazing artists around me that almost anything that can be imagined can be created.”

The costumes in this production are amazing. Without great costumes and a skillful costume design, instead of creating the air of pomp and embellishment, this show would be nothing more than a cheesy B-movie.

“Stephen and I start planning the costumes a year or more in advance. I prefer doing shows where all or most of the costumes are my designs and creations,” said Atwell. “The chess pieces need to be recognizable and the actors have to be able to move about on stage in a normal way. We are using very elegant fabrics and trims for these costumes.”

Lott realizes that children of all generations have delighted in entering fantasy worlds. “When Jeannie and I work together, we have several shared goals,” he added. “We want to create a unique experience for the audience, try to have the costumes reflect the inner nature of the character, and we want each actor on stage to feel they have the best costume in the show.”

Other cast members include Caroline Bond, Katherine Bishop, Daniel Cheer, Caroline Pierce, Sean Fagan, Colton Cash and Cliff Presley.

Some might say this PLT play is an escape from the real world, while actually it may be a way of learning to understand and deal with our environment without interference with today’s video game generation.

“Gamers are used to seeing graphics that are generated to be as life-like as possible,” McNeill concluded. “They can no longer have that ‘suspension of disbelief’, which is crucial in live theatre.”

PLT isn’t the only theatre to jump on the fantasy bandwagon.

Panhandle Community Theatre (PCT) is offering the theatre-goer the wonderful and wacky world of traveling the globe with the humorous production “Luxury Cruise.”

The plot is set on a sumptuous ocean liner with passengers embarked on a worldwide tour of faraway places and exotic beaches. This comedy encases the lives of several people who wish to be somewhere else, and have fun while doing it.
“There is one scene where eight of the nine cast members are on stage at the same time,” offered director Lauren Sutton. “This fits in wonderfully with what the script dictates as a tight cruise ship cabin.”

“The challenges of doing a comedy from the standpoint of the actors is not to laugh when a fellow actor is doing something funny,” echoed cast member Jean Moses.

This rollicking comedy comes complete with clever and whimsical characters.  The entire play is set aboard a cruise ship melded into three acts (instead of the usual two), each act staged in a different suite, and is a story about three pairs of passengers who embark upon a cruise around the world. As the ship leaves the harbor, the audience learns about each character as they handle their personal problems, their dealings with life and the comedic situations that ensue.

“The audience can expect a comic roller coaster disguised as a cruise ship,” said cast member Candy Culberson. “There are dips into the twists and turns of loss, the challenge of admitting faults, and the comic complications that occur because of pretensions.”

With this show, the audience will have the opportunity to win a dolphin harbor cruise for two via a raffle sponsored by Chase-N-Fins Charters of Pensacola Beach. It should be noted that PCT is an “intimate theatre” and requires reservations.
The remainder of the cast is Nancy Sabol, Robin Tillery, Andrew Finkelstein, David Cook, Sylvia Love, Barry Shuck and Suzanne Haarala.

info@inweekly.net

‘ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS’
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, April 8-10, 15-17
WHERE: Pensacola Cultural Center, 400 S. Jefferson St.
COST: $10-$20, Children 12 and under half price
DETAILS: 432-2042 or pensacolalittletheatre.com

‘LUXURY CRUISE’
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays, April 7-10, 14-17
WHERE: Storage Masters Center, 4646 Woodbine Road, Pace
COST: $12
DETAILS: 221-7599 or
panhandlecommunitytheatre.com