- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2007

There’s a cautionary show biz maxim: “Never go on stage with animals or children — they’ll steal the scene every time.

That’s certainly the case with Debbie Allen’s newest musical, “Alex in Wonderland,” commissioned by the Kennedy Center and running at the Terrace Theater through the weekend.

The title character, Alex, is played by Kyle Jones, a talented, pint-sized charmer. He acts. He belts out songs. He lights up the stage. And when he taps with a “grown-up” he blows her away with relaxed easy grace. Talk about a scene stealer — the adults don’t have a chance when he’s around, and much of the success of the show hangs on his vibrant performance.

But there’s a bit of mystery about this young man. Most of the children in the large cast of dancers are seasoned performers. Their bios usually indicate their age — “Arrington is an 8th grade student,” “Chelsea is an 11-year old dancer,” “Bethany is a proud 17-year old student.” Kyle’s bio only tells us he “recently relocated to California from Detroit” and he has appeared “locally, nationally and internationally.” Could this diminutive performer be older than he looks?

The multi-talented Miss Allen wrote, directed and choreographed “Alex in Wonderland” and composed the infectious music and lyrics with James Ingram.

The show she has made — together with 20 assistants listed in the program — gets off to a fast start with an opening number showing her youngsters’ impressive precision and zest. They appear several times again, and whenever they do the show takes off.

Particularly striking was the number “Rap Punzel,” with Christopher Brian Holland decked out in 20-foot-long dreadlocks, slinking and shimmying through some pretty incredible moves. He should go far.

Adult actors brave enough to toe the line with all this youthful zest had a harder time. The show was heavily over-miked, not such a problem in the dancing numbers, but making the spoken words distorted and harsh. Also, the plotline was overly complicated and carried the prosaic message that learning can be fun. But Tracy Kennedy as a statuesque Fairy Godmother, and James Konicek as a droll, French-accented Jean Claude brought wit and style to their roles.

These are the comments of a dance critic looking at “Alex” for its signs of theatrical imagination, originality, well-constructed plotline and lively performers.

But the most telling evaluation comes from its target audience. Before the show began the Terrace Theater was full of bouncing, hyperactive children. Then the curtain went up.

For the next 70 minutes you could have heard a pin drop. The youngsters watched in rapt attention, laughed at the funny lines and cheered enthusiastically at the end. All shows should be so lucky in audience response.

WHAT: Debbie Allen’s “Alex in Wonderland”

WHEN: Tomorrow through Sunday at various times

WHERE: Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

TICKETS: $24

PHONE: 202-467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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