There’s going through the looking glass. Then there’s shattering it, shards hurtling everywhere.
File Alice: A Steampunk Rock Opera Fantasy—a dizzying, discombobulated dance/rock riff on Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—as inspired by the former and accomplishing the latter. Frankly, I didn’t understand a second of it. Then again, as rock operas go, after meeting that deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure played a mean pinball, I didn’t comprehend much of The Who’s Tommy, either—but was still entertained by it.
Creatively slow-boiled by a cluster of Strip performers as a side project since it began taking shape at Tuscany Suites in 2013, it’s open now as a monthly gig at Vinyl at the Hard Rock (other performances will be May 20, June 17 and July 15), and is eyeing a steadier run.
Dialogue-free and ear-bleedingly loud—backed by trumpeter David Perrico’s amped-up ensemble—Alice is a brash concoction of surreal visuals, trippy choreography and rock bombast baked into a nonsensical pastry, the effect akin to eating one of those funny brownies.
With the Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit and Red Queen accounted for, it’s designed as an immersive journey for the senses. Though it isn’t interested in a linear framework—neither was Carroll’s novel for much of it—it often plays like a disorienting freakout. One that’s set to hits by the Beatles, Amy Winehouse, Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, Queen and Aerosmith, among others.
Out front are two Alices, the more familiar “good” one portrayed by Anne Martinez (the show’s creative driving force) and an evil doppelganger played by Ashley Fuller (both actresses are lead singers in Jubilee).
Amid the hooded, caped and robed characters slinking and slithering around the Alices in makeup/costumes that are part-steampunk, part drug-chic, action spills from the stage. Spreading into the audience, it reaches the back of the house, where a hookah becomes central to a party within the show, set to a smoldering “Light My Fire.” Often, actors aim flashlights around the club in case we lose track of where the frenzied dancing and gyrating is/was/will be next, a whiplash-inducing exercise.
At one point, one character sent Frisbees spinning across the stage at another, which matched the eyes spinning in my head.
Musically, Martinez and Fuller are dynamic performers, never singing with less than grab-you-by-the-throat lustiness, though the relentless red-zone-level blasting is eventually numbing. Yet many of the interpretations from the sterling Perrico band are refreshingly new, including: a badass “Paint It Black”; an intriguing, Middle-Eastern-flavored “Ring of Fire”; a bump-and-grind-worthy take on “The Loco-Motion”; a slow-tempo twist on the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams”; and a version of “Pure Imagination” from Williy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory that drains it of sweetness, refilling it with sensuality.
Comparatively, snatches of “Bohemian Rhapsody” sounded nearly tame.
Sporadically, Alice rose above its own chaos to become infectious fun, and if Martinez and company can impose more discipline and less decibels without deflating its exuberance, this inventive curio might go down the right creative rabbit hole.
Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.