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A new version of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to make its premiere

Decades in the making, a new musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland will premiere this week.

Written by Walter Evans and based on the Lewis Carroll novel, the play heads to the John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School stage March 23 and 24.

 “We first did it in 1980 at Fort Gordon, and it did extremely well,” said Evans, a retired Augusta University literature professor.

In its first iteration, it was a straight play, but over the years, Evans fashioned it into a musical, using poems and dialogue from the original Lewis text as the basis of the song lyrics. Carl Purdy, another Augusta University professor, wrote the music.

Evans had partnered with Steve Walpert, longtime director of Fort Gordon’s entertainment programs, for the first show 43 years ago.

At right, Steve Walpert directs the actors in Davidson Fine Arts production of Alice in Wonderland. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

“It was such a great show,” said Walpert, who is collaborating with his wife, Betty, Davidson drama teacher, to bring the show to life.

Still, he was hesitant at first to redo the show.

“When I have a show that’s really successful, I try not to repeat it, but he said ‘it  will be different because it’s a musical,’” Steve Walpert said.

 The two attempted to bring it to the stage several times prior to the pandemic, but it never worked out. The pandemic further delayed it. Davidson, however, has proven to be the perfect place for the show, he said.

Students say they’ve loved working on it and bringing it to life for a new generation of audiences to see.

“I could see a younger version of myself sitting in the audience, and she would be laughing her head off,” said Arrie B. Bowden, a senior who is playing the White Rabbit.

Bowden has studied the character from a variety of angles to base her interpretation.

“The White Rabbit is a deep character,” she said. “He’s not just frantic; he’s a fussy old man. He’s not just nervous; he’s attentive. There’s so much lore to my character.”

Alice in Wonderland comes to the Davidson Fine Arts stage March 23 and 24. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

She has also developed her own costume for the rabbit, giving attention to the fact that as part of the Queen’s Court, he had some status that would’ve reflected in what he wore. She wanted to use the colors of blue and white.

When making his tabard for later in the play, she added pieces of ribbon to give it a feel of tapestry, she said.

Interpretation and imagination are at the heart of this production, according to Evans.

Unlike the popular Disney animated version and the live action Disney film, Alice doesn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes in this production. Carroll based his version of Alice on Alice Liddell, who had short dark hair.

“It just reminds us that she’s a fictional character, and we can imagine her as we want,” he said.

 In the Davidson play, Sarah Vergara, a sophomore with jet black locks, plays the central figure.

 “It’s really exciting to be able to play a character that isn’t stereotypically my race,” she said. “It’s a good experience.”

Alice is the first lead role Vergara has stepped into, and she said it’s stretching her out of her comfort zone as an actor. She’s excited to be part of it and to work under Steve and Betty Walpert whose exuberance for theater is inspiring.

“They are so lively. It’s not like a job for them,” she said. “They do it because they love it.”

The show will be performed at 7 p.m. March 22 and at 4 and 7 p.m. March 23. Tickets are $5 for the 4 p.m. March 23 show and $6-$10 for the 7 p.m. performances.

Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Subscribe to the newsletter here.

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