Stage School Australia and the Young Australian Broadway Chorus kick off 2016 with another musical for young people, performed by young people, with another season of Alice In Wonderland Junior.
The show returns following their 2014 season in The Loft at Chapel Off Chapel, with a new cast and a new venue at Southbank Theatre in The Lawler. The show is a musical version of the 1951 Disney movie, which sticks closely to the movie’s characters and events, rather than Lewis Carroll’s classic novel.
Theatrepeople spoke with the show’s director, Robert Coates, about the upcoming show and the delights it holds for audiences young and old. Coates thinks his first experience with Alice was the picture book version, a story it seems he has known his whole life. “When we first got a VCR in the 1980s, the Disney film was one of the first tapes we had, so I knew it pretty well at the time”, he says.
Coates has worked with Stage School Australia for over 20 years, starting work there just after finishing high school, when it was still called the Victorian Youth Theatre (still the name of their drama course). His personal highlights include national and international tours, the Melbourne premiere of Spring Awakening, as well as over 30 seasons of YABC concerts at the National Theatre, and the many productions including last year’s The Little Mermaid and Babe, to name a few.
“We’re always busy, and we’re always offering a lot of young people the chance to be a part of these big productions – that’s pretty exciting”, he says.
Their current production of Alice in Wonderland is a fun, catchy musical show that will play in repertory with a production The Secret Garden, and on some days they have been busy with five rehearsal rooms going at once.
“These shows are usually rehearsed and performed within a single school holiday period, which makes for an intense process compared with working on a show over a much longer timeframe”, Coates says. “When you’re working like this all of the creative team rely heavily on each other to get the show onstage”.
His favourite part of the rehearsal process so far has been watching the progress of the cast performing the musical numbers, and seeing the numbers grow day by day. “There’s a ‘production number’ about every five minutes, so there’s been a huge amount of choreography and detailed work” he says.
The show has changed since it’s first season in 2014, mainly due to the size and shape of the venue. “The Lawler is a wide space with a large stage, so we’ve been able to build a new set, have a slightly larger ensemble, and expand the action. As always with a remount, we’ve kept the things we liked most, but have either tweaked, or in some cases completely re-done, other moments”, says Coates. “It’s also a completely new cast, so they bring their own strengths to the show”.
Coates is most looking forward to sharing the wacky characters with the audience. “Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts, our three Alices (Medium, Small and Large) – these are completely over-the-top creations that I’m sure the audience are going to love”, he says.
“The biggest joy of the previous season was seeing the number of young children in the audience, most of whom were having their first experience of live theatre – often children aged 4 or 5, some dressed as characters from the show, who all had a fantastic time”, Coates reflects on the 2014 season.
“We’re hoping to get a similar number of youngsters this time – so if you’ve got younger children and don’t yet want to spend big money taking them to a show in town, bring them on over to Southbank Theatre for Disney Alice in Wonderland Junior”, he says.
Fans of Alice in Wonderland, young and old, can enjoy the show at Southbank Theatre in The Lawler from January 22-26. You can buy tickets here (link: http://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/other-companies/disney-alice-in-wonderland-jr/ )