Project Wonderland

It's a formula that's bound to raise expectations through the roof: Combine the monstrous fabulousness of director Robert Prior with the circus that is choreographer Ken Roht, then tack on no-expense spared 99-cent karma. Unfortunately, writer-director Prior's revamped exploration down the rabbit hole doesn't quite reach the dizzying heights some of us were hoping for, but it's still a fun ride.

After a clever start that sets us up for reimagining the creative process, the play follows a chastised, stuttering Charles Dodgeson, aka Lewis Carroll (Lon Haber), on a hallucinogenic trip into the world of his soon-to-be books, in which the bemused, abused Alice becomes the Everyman—or Everygirl—ultimately embodied by Charles. With more than a little help from Teresa Shea's often brilliant costumes and set, the performers have loads of treats in store for us—including a spit-spot White Rabbit (Jessica Hanna), enigmatic caterpillar (Michael Bonnabel), wonderfully scornful Duchess (Silvie Zamora), maddest of Mad Hatters (Matthew Patrick Davis, super in so many roles here) and a King and Queen of Hearts to trump all (Raul Staggs and the ridiculously funny Jabez Zuniga). Sharyn Gabriel, Lucie McGrane, Henry McMillan, Lori Scarlett, and Daniele Watts complete the capable cast.

Prior's inventive staging flows beautifully from one scene to another, full of absolutely stunning visuals; Lynn Jeffries puppet design is amazing (a nod to puppeteers Rachel Garcia and Israel Lopez), from clever machinations to simple, irresistible touches such as projected shadow puppets and the lively Cheshire Cat. Credit also to Brandon Baruch's lighting. Oh, and Roht's choreography is not to be sneezed at: Lobster Quadrille anyone? But although the action is beautifully accompanied by a live band (Casey Butler, Sarah Ann Phillips, and Jim Snodgrass) and John Ballinger's sound design is tops, some of the musical elements don't work as well; the piece is peppered with Indira Stefanianna's original tunes, as well as 1960s rock standards, and too many of them bog down the proceedings. "Project Wonderland" is also missing something in the text, which is primarily Lewis' own, so Prior's new formula isn't quite right—yet. But when it comes right down to it, how often do you get invited to this sort of spectacular tea party?

Presented by and at Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A. Jan. 15–31. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (323) 833-1567.