Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

Jessica Vandenberg as Alice in Winterland!
Photo Dominique Gibbons

Written and Directed by Ken MacDougall
Musical Direction by Wendy Berkelaar
Choreographed by Jessica Vandenberg
Produced by Matt Cassidy and Sarah Cassidy

On a night when Ottawa was the coldest capital city on the planet, I appropriately ventured out to see a local production called Alice in Winterland. It seemed a proper choice of entertainment to bridge the Christmas and New Year festive season. It is a pantomime show which incorporates broad actions combined with music and intended primarily for children in what is described as family friendly theatre.
There are a number of adult jokes sprinkled throughout that were not particularly funny which makes their inappropriateness more offensive. I was left wondering whether writer director Ken MacDougall thought the insertion of campy, raunchy vaudeville was the only way that adults could be inspired to bring their children to the theatre. I again wondered if he figured that it would be okay because the phallic references would be lost on the children. In any event, the crass gratuitous dick humour was anything but family friendly.
Lu-Anne Connell’s set is quite nice with not too many frills. There is a large screen centre stage that provides a changing backdrop to areas of interest around Winterland. It also has previously recorded scenes of action so that the characters may be seen exploring the many corners of Winterland. What starts as a quite cute premise of inserting some local promotions for the sponsors becomes overbearing when it morphs into an extended piece of blatant advertising filler. While this may make sense from a producer’s standpoint I hope that product placement and advertising does not become an imposing trend in the theatre as it has in film.
Just upstage of the main performance area is a tight little three piece combo directed by the always dependable Wendy Berkelaar. Berkelaar is a mainstay of Ottawa’s musical theatre this year and she always delivers the goods.
The performances and production values of the show are all bright and beautiful like a a big beautiful Christmas package wrapped up for the holidays. There’s the colourful imaginative costume design also by Lu-Anne Connell providing vibrant hues and fanciful shapes. The makeup as well is worth noting as it pops out profoundly (this show will likely have the biggest budget for false eyelashes of any production this season).
The cast are all terrific. There are no weak links. Special mention goes to Cara Pantalone as the Queen of Tarts who is show stoppingly good as the only true villain of the night. She earns every boo and hiss that the audience readily bestows upon her. The youngest member of the cast Declan Cassidy as Selfie, a shelf elf is adorable. He will likely be a force to be reckoned with if he continues on this path to adulthood as he already is developing formidable performance skills.
Jessica Vandenburg as the shy but engaging Alice performs double duty as choreographer which is displayed most impressively in the cast tap dance number.
Lewis Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland worked as a fantasy for children but also worked on an adult level because of the political context of its time. Alice in Winterland however aims some of its jokes at an audience demographic of 12 to 14 year olds. Maybe I am being too grinchy or cold but I do believe that the family friendly label should be heeded to the letter. It is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

Written and Directed by Ken MacDougall
Musical Direction by Wendy Berkelaar
Choreographed by Jessica Vandenberg
Produced by Matt Cassidy and Sarah Cassidy
Mark Allan Mia
Declan Cassidy Selfie
Chad Connell Mad Hatter
Will Lamond Mr. Caterpillar
Emilie O’Brien Blanche
Cara Pantalone Queen of Tarts
Shelley Simester Cheshire
Jessica Vandenberg Alice and Choreographer