“Alice in Wonderland” production gets a new twist

"Alice in Wonderland" is on stage May 13-22 at Desert Foothills Youth Theater.
Desert Foothills Youth Theater’s “Alice in Wonderland” is on stage May 13-22.

The tale of a curious girl who falls down a rabbit hole and discovers a land filled with strange and magical characters is familiar to readers of Lewis Carroll’s books. But Desert Foothills Youth Theater promises an original “Alice in Wonderland” onstage May 13-22.

“‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a mystifying work,” says Jack Lambert, a performer, teacher, writer and director at DFYT. He notes Alice’s backstory was always left a little ambiguous.

Heather Cambanes, Desert Foothills Theater’s education director, developed the concept of an original pre-show entitled “Outside Wonderland,” which Lambert then wrote out in full.

“With a better understanding of where Alice is coming from, we can connect to the play in a new and exciting way,” Lambert adds.

The play, written by ariZoni Award-winning local playwright C. Lynn Johnson, marks the Phoenix directing debut for Cambanes.

Taking on the part of Alice is Alaina Lass, a junior at Pinnacle High School. Past roles at Desert Foothills include Helena in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Peggy in “The Children’s Hour.” Appearing in his fourth show with Desert Stages is John Newell as Carroll/Hatter. Two previous roles were Trekkie Monster in “Avenue Q” and Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz,” for which he received an ariZoni Award nomination.

Playing Tall Alice is Chloe Otstot, an eighth-grader at Desert Canyon Middle School in Scottsdale. This is her 37th show with Desert Foothills. That seems like a lot for someone so young, but Chloe “has done every show possible in our youth, adult, and summer programs,” says Lambert.

Ashley Shirley, a 15-year-old honor student at Cactus Shadows High School in Scottsdale, is Pre-Alice. Past performances include Mary Warren in “The Crucible,” Puck in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”and Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid Jr.”

Making her first appearance at Desert Foothills is 9-year-old Bridget Zatarga-Fronstin as SmallAlice. The third-grader at Boulder Creek Elementary School made her acting debut at the age of 5 as a Baby Angel in Spotlight Youth Theatre’s “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

Before the May 15 performance, the cast will host a Mad Hatter tea party in the lobby, complete with tea and sandwiches from the English Rose Tea Room, along with a story and a song from the quirky Wonderland characters. Tickets to the Mad Hatter tea party are $12.

“We recommend Alice for all ages,” says Lambert. “There are a lot of moments to keep the young ones attentive and engaged, and some crafty wordplay and dialogue” adults may find interesting.

If you go: 7 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays May 13-22. Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center, Black Box Theater, 33606 N. 60th St., Scottsdale. $16-$21; $14-$16 youth. 480-488-1981 or dftheater.org