It's been 18 months in the making, but Alice In Pantoland is finally hitting the stage at the Neptune Theatre.
The family-friendly musical comedy is an interesting take on Alice In Wonderland, directed and written by Jeremy Webb, Artistic Director for Neptune.
But after many months of uncertainty, it feels almost surreal for Webb to have a show on-stage at the Halifax mainstay.
“It's a mix of excitement, relief and sadness at the lost opportunities we've had. It's emotional around here lately,” he said. “We have two shows coming this year like we normally would. Aside from it being smaller audiences due to COVID precautions, dare I say it feels normal.”
With Alice and A Christmas Carol gearing up, Webb says the atmosphere is infectious around the theatre.
“The actors are rehearsing, singing, dancing and being silly. They're laughing, and it's such a juxtaposition to the atmosphere during the pandemic, where I felt like the theatre was an empty shell, and a husk of what it should be,” he said.
“I'm apprehensive and watching daily COVID case numbers. But I'm living my best life right now as the writer and director of this one.”
Webb is excited for the pantomime of Alice, and he always wanted to do a Christmas edition. With 2018's Cinderella and 2019's Peter Pan done in that style, he realized there was an appetite for them.
“People love coming as a family and seeing the crazy, silly fun time with pop songs, bad jokes and all that. It's a great experience, and we're carrying on the tradition with Alice,” he said.
“Lewis Carroll's book is short on plot. It allowed me to use it as inspiration. The characters are glorious and vivid, with so much painted in. So is used Alice as the hook and put our spin on it. I'm really happy about our treatment.”
With Alice on – as well as A Christmas Carol, a show we started in 2003 – I'm happy to say things have been going really well. We are running two shows in two theatres and maximizing our space. I can't wait to see families and people celebrating,” he said.
Theatre holds a special place in Webb's heart, and he says that it can be a transformative experience for people, something he has seen first-hand.
“When we did Beauty & The Beast, we would interact with the audience in costume after the show, pose for photos, and kids would dress like us. I've had people come in who saw us when they were kids, and years later, they're showing photos of them hugging me in the same lobby,” he said.
“Seeing people get involved in theatre or find a love for the arts after seeing us is an incredible thing. Knowing we can have that impact is glorious, and I'm so happy we're back.”
It's a personal affair for Webb, who brings the artists surrounded for this phone interview to tears as he recalls when his son first saw him onstage.
“When my son – who was four at the time – first saw me, I was doing Beauty & The Beast. I knew he was sitting there, and I could feel him pulsating while I was on stage. At the end of the show, he came to the opening night party, even though it was five hours past his bedtime,” he said.
“He slowly walked over to me in a crowded room. He looked at me, and he slowly put his arms around my neck. He held me at arms length, looked at my face, and put what he'd seen on that stage all together. He kissed me hard, and I was a mess. And those interactions ... That's what we do this for.”
Performer Allister MacDonald may live in Toronto now, but he's feeling really excited to be home onstage for Alice In Pantoland. As The Hatter, he has a great role to dig into.
“This really gives the opportunity for my family to see my work. I'm most excited for my niece and nephew – who are seven – to see this one. Returning to the Neptune always feels like coming full circle,” he said.
“This stage is going to allow me to be free, brave and have fun in a way that's not always as accessible. I love it here.”
He's excited for The Hatter role, and what he'll be able to do with it.
“I love to transform into the characters I'm playing. I've begun to craft this eccentric character, and it's the most fun I've had in years,” he said.
“I'm a sucker for underdogs and outsiders, and I think The Hatter is misunderstood. There are depths and layers here I'm having fun exploring for sure.”
The cast is loving the material, and like his director, MacDonald is excited for the reception from the crowd.
“I'm hoping kids will come and we can inspire future generations of artists and theatre makers. I want to open minds and imaginations,” he said.
Our Alice in the play is Faly Mevamanana, and she's had a great time getting into character.
“She's so wonderful and there's a curiosity and generosity about here. Being with this cast and watching these characters come to life has been incredible. This is a dream for sure,” she said.
“I never thought growing up that someone like me could be in this role. But it's been incredible to see this changing the last few years. I'm so happy Neptune and Jeremy Webb wanted me to be a part of this.”
She auditioned for Webb long ago for Mamma Mia and caught his eye, and the rest is history.
“I was so happy to audition and get this chance. When young people see me on stage and see they can look like me and do these things, it's incredible,” she said.
“It's been nerve-racking, but we're back. This felt like coming home, and this is what we're supposed to be doing. We're all friends and we laugh all day long. I can't wait to share this thing we love with audiences.”
Tickets are now available for Alice In Pantoland, and for more information, please visit Neptune Theatre's website.