9 August 2020 | Cineanalyst
Ordinarily, I would avoid watching a taping of a stage production for television broadcast, since one is generally receiving the worst results of both live theatre and cinema. But, I've been seeking a bunch of Alice movies since reading Lewis Carroll's books, and this filmed play stars Meryl Streep as Alice. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see one of the greatest actresses in recorded history take on the eponymous role. It turns out, too, that "Alice at the Palace" is an interesting musical-theatre adaptation.
In retrospect, Streep here, singing and dancing with joy while wearing overalls will remind one of "Mamma Mia!" (2008). Likewise, this is fun to watch because it's evident that she is having fun. Indeed, there are quite a few shots of her smiling and laughing at other characters--or even the actors, as though she's breaking character. Some of the backstage and the balcony are already in the picture, so the production always seems to be teetering on breaking the fourth wall even though it never decisively does so.
The adaptation overcomes the episodic nature of the books better than most theatrically-released or other TV movies that I've seen. It progresses from act to act in a loose, free-flowing sort of reworked way. For instance, the Mock Turtle soup song turns into one of too much pepper in the baby's soup, and, suddenly, we've transitioned to the scene with the Duchess and her pepper-crazed maid. Furthermore, the camera placement and scene dissection is well thought out to produce the stage production for TV. Although the production values aren't at the same level, there's a considerable amount of miming by the actors that alludes to the minimalist stagings. The spectator is expected to fill in the gaps just like the dreaming Alice has to in the story.
The only matter of the stage production that I'm not fond of is the hint of ethnic stereotyping for some of the Wonderland creatures. Beginning with the music suggesting the Orientalism of the Caterpillar, there's also a Jewish Mock Turtle boring Alice with the history of his youth, and I wonder whether it's a coincidence or the angry-black-woman stereotype that has African Americans playing Carroll's two most irascible female characters, the Duchess and the Red Queen. On the other hand, perhaps, I'm reading too much into what is otherwise a lively and carefree version of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and its sequel, "Alice Through the Looking Glass."