Perhaps one of the biggest wonders of Whidbey Playhouse’s current musical production is how Stan Thomas herded, organized and directed 50-plus children who comprise the cast of “Disney Alice in Wonderland Jr.”
“He has the patience of a saint, that’s all I can say,” remarked Karen Sperry, the grandmother to White Rabbit, aka Kayla Raasina, an eighth-grader at North Whidbey Middle School.
Monday evening, Sperry and other family and friends of the young cast watched an advance showing of the play that opens to the public July 20.
Many praised Thomas, a long-time director of Whidbey Playhouse Community Theater in Oak Harbor, for his seemingly magical skills.
Before lobsters, fish, flowers and Royal Cardsman appeared and disappeared on cue, the mother of the Doorknob said Thomas instills the spirit of community theater in children, teaching them about cooperation and citizen involvement.
“He can take the most introverted child or the most hyperactive child and before the end they all have one goal. They can see how they all make a difference together in a play. That’s his skill,” said Kali Hiatt. Her daughter, Makenzi Hiatt, is cast as the Doorknob, a rather small but important character who helps Alice begin her descent into you-know-where.
Thomas is an old hand at grooming youngsters for the stage. Five years ago, he started the after-school youth drama program, Would Be Players.
In an interview, Thomas professed to no secret sauce when it comes to kids.
“I just appeal to their desire to do the best that they can do,” he said. “I treat them fairly with high expectations and rarely lose patience with them.
“I’ve found that with kids, most of the time, there are no egos to get in the way of the process.”
The play is based on the 1951 Disney animated motion picture, “Alice in Wonderland,” which of course, was adapted from the novels of British author Lewis Carroll. The classic tale turns a nonsensical fantasy world into lessons on the absurdities of “normalcy.”
This current rendition of rabbit hole weirdness was created by Music Theatre International as a community theater musical and a way to reach a new generation of children. Eleven songs are performed; music and lyrics are written by Sammy Fain, Bob Hilliard and others.
Be prepared to chuckle at familiar quotes, such as White Rabbit’s “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get” and Alice’s refrain of “Curiouser and curiouser!”
Before Monday’s rehearsal performance, Thomas told the audience that the play didn’t star any adults, and that it was “pulled together in a couple of months with over 50 children involved.
“Just let their exuberance spread all over you and let them energize you as they have energized me.”
So many children crowd the stage because there are so many parts to play. It takes three actresses — two Ashleys and an Ella — alone to portray Alice as she shrinks and grows.
Ashley Coker, 12, plays small Alice, while Ashley Berry, 15, fills the part of Tall Alice. Ella Langrock, an Oak Harbor High School sophomore plays the main role of Alice. Combined, they are a force in blue-and-white frocks.
The Tweedles evoked much laughter with their confounding identity crisis. Tweedle Dee is played by Jessica Turner while Andrew Gibson plays Tweedle Dum. Both are 13 and have acted in numerous plays.
Best projection of voice surely belongs to the Queen of Hearts, Rhiannon Chapman, soon-to-be seventh grader who has participated in Would Be Players for three seasons.
Behind the scene players include: Eric George, assistant director; Allenda Jenkins, producer; and Diane Collette, stage manager. Parents and many others also volunteer time and talent toward costumes, crew, lighting, set design and other needs.
“Disney Alice in Wonderland Jr.” runs July 20-30 at Whidbey Playhouse Community Theater, 730 SE Midway Blvd., Oak Harbor. It’s presented 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for children.
• For information: www.whidbeyplayhouse.com or call 360-679-2237.