Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Guest Review 15 (2019-2020): PAINTED ALICE: THE MUSICAL

“Sunday in LIC With Alice” ***

By Elyse Orecchio (guest reviewer)

Tana Sirois, Meghan Ginley.
To get to the performance space for Painted Alice involves winding through multiple exhibits at the Plaxell Art Gallery in Long Island City; pretty cool to get a free art show along with your theatre tickets. The show is performed in an enormous room in the back of the 12,000 square-foot gallery (eat your heart out, Manhattan) where there’s ample stage space and the audience watches from chairs set up on bleachers. 

Presented by Long Island City Artists, Inc. by special arrangement with Greg Schaffert, Painted Alice is a love letter to LIC, where warehouses converted into art galleries neighbor waterfront high-rises with skyline views and the beautiful Gantry Plaza State Park, and  where struggling artists walk their dogs alongside the wealthy. The titular character Alice (Tana Sirois) paints with the Citi building as a backdrop, as seen through her window (original art created for the show by Eileen Coyne).

The concept is nifty: a modern-day Alice In Wonderland where Alice is an uninspired artist who falls through her canvas and enters an alternate universe in which she encounters odd characters who must teach her life lessons before she can return home. A zany show about art in an eclectic art gallery: great start.

Painted Alice features some fun ideas: Alice’s childhood drawings come to life and lecture her, she dances a duet with an Italian painter in which they both wear one roller skate, the audience gets to munch on brownies, there’s exercise-ball choreography, and the front row acts as a jury by holding up paddles of famous paintings (I had Girl With a Pearl Earring).

William Donnelly’s (book and lyrics) and Michael Mahler’s (music and lyrics) songs are upbeat and entertaining, led by music director Jonathan Bauerfeld at the piano and enhanced by Conor Keelan’s orchestrations. Guillermo Laporta’s lighting and projections bring gusto to Alice’s wonderland. Director Edjo Wheeler’s staging makes creative use of the space, though the show’s pacing needs more snap. 

The many characters in Alice’s orbit are played by Jack Bowman, Molly Kelleher, Adam B. McDonald, and Jamie Shapiro, who all have a lot of work to do and do it very well. Kelleher is given the bulk of the larger-than-life roles, including the flamboyant art agent who channels Frasier Crane’s agent Bebe, and an insult-hurling incarnation of a mermaid Alice drew as a kid, costumed by Olivia Vaughn Hern.  

The piece refreshingly focuses on a female artist, and I don’t even want to make it a thing that the primary romantic relationship is between two women, because the show doesn’t. Unfortunately, what begins as the progressive story of a young woman’s career as a painter surprisingly devolves into typical romcom trappings. Alice’s girlfriend Dinah (Meghan Ginley) is strangely unsupportive of the time Alice puts into her work and wishes she’d be more of a priority for her partner. It was hard to appreciate the pretty song imploring Alice to “make room in your life for love” when I was distracted wondering what the heck she did wrong other than try to meet a deadline. 

As plot events get “curiouser and curiouser,” so does clarity on what the production is aiming to achieve. It seems that Alice goes through a whole lot of trouble just to learn that love is more important than her work (huh?), and that it’s no big deal to back out of a job commitment if it means being true to yourself (huh??). 

The prevalent phrase I heard whispered among the crowd on my way out was “that was fun.” You may not leave the theatre with any more meaningful revelations than Alice had, but chances are you’ll have had a pretty good time. 

The Plaxall Gallery
5-25 46th Ave., Long Island City, NYC
Through Dec 1

Elyse Orecchio studied musical theatre at Emerson College, acting at CUNY Brooklyn College, and English Linguistics & Rhetoric at CUNY Hunter College. She has worked in nonprofit communications for more than a decade. She lives in Sunnyside, Queens, with her husband Joe, kids Theo and Melody, and three cats. eorecchio@gmail.com @elyseorecchio