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Jordan Essex, Carly Pometto and Ashleigh Kepley in "Through the Looking Glass."
Jordan Essex, Carly Pometto and Ashleigh Kepley in "Through the Looking Glass." (Photo by Larry Simmons)

Whimsical hearts entering Laurel Mill Playhouse may feel like Alice stepping "Through the Looking Glass" in the little theater's current showing of the stage adaptation of Lewis Carroll's 19th century novel, directed here by Spencer Kate Nelson and produced by Maureen and Julie Rogers, of Laurel.

Carroll wrote "Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There" as the sequel to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

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With book and lyrics by Chris Blackwood and music by Piers Chater Robinson, the musical is Nelson's first directing stint. Trained at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, she choreographed the well-rehearsed dance numbers (performed by the actors ranging in age from 8–18) and designed the set.

In this adventure, Alice's game (the primary plot device) is chess. The elements of staging, especially the set design and Lynn Kellner's outstanding costume design, are charming.

Resembling an illustration that could have been torn from a storybook, black wall flats intersect with a skewed black and white chessboard floor and a crimson scrim (hanging in the stage left doorway and serving as the mirror) to project a dreamlike energy.

Chess pieces stenciled in white above the doorway add a touch of visual balance. Overall, the effect is so apropos that Alice's presence is felt long before the stage lights (designed by Laurel resident Michael Hartsfield) rise on lead actress Ashleigh Kepley, who is sitting at a small table center stage.

Ashleigh Kepley, as Alice; and Jordan Essex, as Lewis Carroll (the White Knight) in a scene fro "Through the Looking Glass" at Laurel Mill Playhouse.
Ashleigh Kepley, as Alice; and Jordan Essex, as Lewis Carroll (the White Knight) in a scene fro "Through the Looking Glass" at Laurel Mill Playhouse. (Photo by Larry Simmons)

As Alice, Kepley interacts with pivotal characters foreshadowing those she will meet on her new adventure before stepping through the mirror into a backward fantasy world. (L. Frank Baum said he was influenced by Carroll's work when he penned "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" about 30 years later.)

Cassandra Ferrell, of Laurel, is Alice's tutor, Miss Pricket (and the Red Queen, who is not to be confused with the Queen of Hearts in "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"). A commanding stage presence, Ferrell delivers a powerful performance in both roles.

Brooke Miller, of Laurel is lovely as Auntie (the White King); musical director Billy Georg stood in valiantly for Jordan Essex as Lewis Carroll (the White Knight) on opening night. Samantha Roberts delivers a loving Mama (the White Queen), and Laurel resident Paige Miller is fetching as the Other Alice reflected in the looking glass whom Alice must save.

Dani Kellner makes a highly entertaining Mrs. Humphrey (and Humpty Dumpty) — she shares the roles with Carly Pometto, who will appear onstage Aug. 18–21.

Valerie Swing as Mrs. Dumble (and Tweedle Dee) and her brother, Gareth Swing as Mr. Deedle (and Tweedle Dee) were nothing short of adorable as the smallest members of the cast, and Hanna Omran delivers a smooth performance as Lady Kingston (and the dozing Red King).

Cast members hailing from Laurel include: Josephine Coward; Max Coward; Tabitha Dickson; Michaela Farias; Ferrell; Moriah Franklin-McGruder; Jordan Charles-Horne; Brooke and Paige Miller; Valerie, Gareth and Sabrina Swing; and Kayla Tucker.

The child actors who commuted to Laurel are: Emily Bruun; Josephine Coward; Maxwell Coward; Isabella Dodro; Colleen Dunne; Jordan Essex; Loraine Hamlet; Courtney J. Harris; Delaney McGinniss; Yasmine Noland; Rebekah Pase; Pometto; Samantha Roberts; Victoria Simmons; Martha Stevens; and Yvonna Smack.

Each and every cast member brought a sense of wonder to the stage on opening night with clear vocals and enchanting characterizations.

Under Georg's direction, more than a dozen beautifully performed musical numbers bring the story to life as Alice, once again, finds herself in danger of losing her head.

"The Other Alice" (Miller); "Ticket's Please!" (Hamlett, whose performance is excellent, Kepley, Simmons, Bruun, and Passengers); "Two Sides to Every Argument (Valerie and Gareth Swing); "I Look Down" (Kellner, Georg and Kepley); and the final reprisal of "Small" (Kepley, Georg and Miller) are standouts.

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Kepley's signature hand gesture as Alice with her fingers spread wide makes as an indelible impression as Jenifer Grundy Hollet's construct of the very fun Jabberwock costume worn by Sabrina Swing.

Summer is the season for family-friendly shows at Laurel Mill Playhouse, and there's nothing like watching a group of kids tap and have the time of their lives. "Through the Looking Glass" is well staged, well directed and well enacted and makes for a delightful evening for children of all ages.

"Through the Looking Glass" continues weekends through Aug. 21, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., at Laurel Mill Playhouse, 508 Main St. General admission is $20. Students 18 and under, active duty military and seniors 65 and over pay $15. For reservations, call 301-617-9906 and press 2, or buy tickets online at laurelmillplayhouse.org

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