May O’Nays, Peighton Radlein, & Diana Rae in Alice in Wonderland. Photo: Tony Lewis
Alice In Derbyland
Written, directed, & choreographed by Tony Lewis
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Alice in Derbyland is a madcap, Derby fantasy in drag that crosses Lewis Carroll and The Matrix and Eddie Izzard but is all Louisville.
That limits its appeal to about a 50-mile radius, but there’s value in having shows that highlight what is unique about a city and we are the home of the “greatest two minutes in sports”. Yet Alice has next to nothing to do wth the Kentucky Derby and everything to do with the larger festival culture that has grown up around it, and the title character is positioned as an expatriate of the Bluegrass state who has come to Louisville for the first time and her first Derby.
I already feel like I’m being too serious in my tone, for this is a romp, or perhaps gallop is the more appropriate word. A fairy-tale pastiche filled with inside jokes and reconstituted pop songs about fabulousness and the shallow conflict between Alice (Peighton Radlein) and the evil Delta Queen (Gilda Wabbit), which, because its a fairy tale, will all work out in the end.
As Alice is introduced to Derbyland by taxi driver the Churchill Rabbit (the excellent Philip Clemons) on their way to the Mad Milliner (May O’ Nays in the BEST outfit of the night), who will remake her into a figure who can challenge the reigning monarch of Derbyland, the Delta Queen, things move at a brisk pace. The puns are liberally dropped and the jokes about neighborhoods are spot on, if also obvious: “What’s that area that is filled with soccer balls and minivans?”, “Oh, that’s St. Matthews.”
I’ve a lot to learn about the drag community of performers, but there is no question in my mind that Gilda Wabbit is a major talent in this community, and her Delta Queen dominates. But May O’Nays is also a force of nature, and a bridge between the insecurity and naivete of the those searching for “The One” and the supreme confidence of Delta Queen and her chief enforcer the Seersucker Cat (a very saucy and nimble Uhstel H. Valentine). If May is a broader character with a comedic foundation, Gilda is a sexy, femme fetale built for satirical, evil delight.
The use of those drag personas is reflected in the costume credits, which suggest that Wabbit, O’Nays, Valentine, and Diana Rae took charge of their own highly individual looks, while Lewis, Susan Cecil, and Jessica Sharp designed the rest. However they came into existence, the costumes are certainly memorable.
It is highly likely that Alice creator Tony Lewis crafted this show for these performers, so perfectly do they fit the mission. Peighton Radlein proves to be a surprising blend of innocence and saturnine, as if she guesses far more about her fate that anyone is telling her. Her lower register vocals nicely reinforce this quality. I must observe that after the one act Alice ended and some of the cast offered individual performances, Radlein belted out a solo number that showed she is capable of much more than Alice allowed.
Alice In Derbyland makes no apologies about being a bright and sassy entertainment, and, beyond the pitch perfect casting, Lewis has crafted the piece almost to a high gloss, with simple but vivid projections that establish that the time and location is not real but a Louisville of our imagination. And the thing moves well, with well-rehearsed choreography that doesn’t overreach but effectively builds energy. Only a true curmudgeon would not have a good time.
Featuring Philip Clemons, Leigh Nieves, May O’Nays, Peighton Radlein, Diana Rae, Uhstel H. Valentine, Salem Vytch-Tryellis, & Gilda Wabbit
Alice In Derbyland
April 22 @ 7:30 PM
1433 S Shelby St
Louisville, KY 40217
April 24 @ 3 PM
731 Brent S
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.