Nonprofit profile of Gilroy Recreation Department: ‘Alice in Wonderland Jr.’ teaches children the skills to perform
Actors enjoy making new friends
Published in the May 10 – 23, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Marty Cheek
Things are getting “curiouser and curiouser” at the Gilroy High School Theater. More than 80 local young people will celebrate the adventures of a girl named Alice in a underground land filled with strange and comical characters. Presented by the Gilroy Recreation Department and directed by TheaterFun founder Carol Romo, the musical “Alice in Wonderland Jr.” opens May 4 for 10 performances.
The production shines a spotlight on the acting, dancing and singing talents of youth from ages 6 to 15 from more than 17 South Valley schools. It features colorfully designed costumes made by Erica Moore.
Avery Dubenko, a student at Ascencion Solorsano Middle School, Riley Brown of Gilroy Prep School, and Ashleigh Perales, of South Valley Middle School, alternate playing the story’s title character as the Victorian-era heroine transforms throughout her wild and wacky adventures in Wonderland.
Jenna Hernandez, a student at Britton Middle School in Morgan Hill, rules the day as the temperamental Queen of Hearts, and Gannon Janisch, a student at St. Francis High School in Watsonville, and Delci Sawyer, a student at Charter School of Morgan Hill, host a mad tea party as the Mad Hatter and March Hare. Maya King, a student at St. Mary School, charms as the always-late White Rabbit. Bridget Reynolds, a student at St. Mary School in Gilroy, teams up as Tweedle Dee with Kennedy Agnitsch, a student at Pacific Point Christian School, as Tweedle Dum, twins tangle themselves up introducing themselves to Alice. The young adventuress encounters a Cheshire Cat, a bubble-blowing caterpillar, sea creatures, flowers, playing cards, and weird tea party guests that will add a little “zip-a-dee-doo-dah” to the hearts of audience members.
Dubenko, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, enjoys the process of developing the heroine Alice’s character with the guidance of Romo’s directing as well as having fun with other children through the rehearsal process.
“The best part about working with the other kids in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ has been getting to know them and making so many new friends,” she said. “I just moved to Gilroy from Lincoln (near Sacramento) in December, so this was a great way for me to meet people who share the same interests as me in our new community. Between scenes I have gotten to know a lot of kids.”
She encourages children to try out for theater shows put on through the city of Gilroy’s Recreation Department because they can learn so many life lessons.
“I have learned to speak in front of people and not get nervous, like when I have to present a report at school. I have also learned to work with people I don’t know in each new play. It is a really fun activity to do,” she said. “I feel like I have become a better actress during this play and with each play I do.”
The version of the show is based on the 1951 Disney film of “Alice in Wonderland,” inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic book and its sequel, “Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass.” It is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International. Music and lyrics are by Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard, Oliver Wallace and Cy Coban, Allie Wrubel and Ray Gilbert, Mack David, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston. Music is adapted and additional lyrics supplied by David Simpatico.
“This is such a delightful show and the kids have all worked so hard on it. It’s a classic story of a girl finding her way, and herself, and having wacky adventures along the way. It is such a fun story to bring to life — you’ll leave singing and dancing,” Romo said.
It’s a fast-paced stage adaptation of the timeless film, featuring updated dialogue and new arrangements of such classic Disney songs as “I’m Late,” “The Un-birthday Song,” and “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” she said.
Morgan Hill resident Emily Shem-Tov’s daughters Miriam and Clara have roles in the show and are excited about presenting their performance skills to entertain audiences. The city of Gilroy Recreation Department productions are a fun way for kids to get introduced to the theater arts, she said.
“There are parts for everyone and they get a chance to be a part of a large-scale production with grand dance numbers, great songs, fun costumes, and to be part of a big family of theater friends,” she said. “Watching the littlest ones take their first try at being on stage and seeing their admiration of the big confident kids is delightful. As a parent, I love getting to be involved and helping with the production and meeting so many families who also love supporting their kids as they take the stage.”
The Shem-Tovs encourage other South Valley families to take their children to this show and introduce them to live performing arts done by children because it is a really fun production with great songs and costumes, and Alice is such a wonderful story.
“We went to see this same group’s production of ‘Peter Pan’ two years ago and that inspired my older daughter to be in productions of ‘Annie’ and ‘Cinderella’ — and now both of my daughters are in ‘Alice’ and loving it,” Shem-Tov said. “Even if your child isn’t interested in being in a show, this is a great place to practice being a good audience member and to appreciate all the hard work that these kids put into the production.”
After each performance, the actors will come out into the theater lobby for pictures with their friends and fans — a wonderfully accessible way to introduce the magic of theater, she said.
“It’s a perfect afternoon or evening out for the whole family,” she said.