"Overture" starts off the album with a blend of swing-jazz hyper-jets and dreamy jazz vapors creating a mood for Alice to begin to fall asleep listening to her father’s collection of jazz records. When she awakens, she finds herself in the mists of Wonderland in "Look At The Time" covered in dazzling beads of swing-jazz horns in the style of Charlie Parker’s "Blues For Alice" while Alice converses with the White Rabbit, performed by Sophie Rogers. Alice finds herself in a conversation with the Mouse, played by Sophie Mackay, in "A Long And Sad Tail" showing hints of the traditional jazz idioms of Ellington and Strayhorn. The next scene has Alice encountering the wicked Caterpillar, performed by Matt Loehrke, in "Who Are You?" Farnell Newton’s trumpet creates the swirling fumes of the Caterpillar’s hookah in the story, moving to a cool Miles Davis-synchronization. Alice then comes across the Frog and Fish Fishmen, played by Alyssa Haning and Michael Chaffee in "An Invitation To Play Croquet" utilizing the chord progressions of John Coltrane’s "Giant Steps."
Alice’s adventure continues with "The Duchess’ Blues" sung by Athena Patterson who plays the charming Duchess and delivers a lounging rhapsody made in the traditional blues style of B.B. King. Alice is then left alone with the Cheshire Cat, played by Emily Bryan in "The Craziest Cat In Town" providing an Afro-Cuban inspired rhythm with quotes of Dizzy Gillespie’s "Manteca," "Salt Peanuts," and "A Night In Tunisia" closing Act One. Act Two begins with Alice joining a mad tea party involving the Mad Hatter, The March Hare, and Dormouse, starting off with "The Time Song" tasseled in Thelonious Monk-like trimmings followed by "It’s Always Time For Tea" paying homage to Ornette Coleman’s "Congeniality," and "Three Little Sisters" influenced by the smooth ballad style of Shirley Horn. Alice leaves the tea party and comes across the Cards in "Five Plus Seven Equals Two" using, once again, Coltrane’s chord progressions for "Giant Steps." The Queen Of Hearts then enters, performed by Marilyn Keller and Shirley Nanette in "Off With His Head" done in the style of swing-jazz songstress, Bessie Smith and showcases Weiss’ humorous lyrics.
After a croquet match, the Queen puts the Knave Of Hearts on trial for stealing her tarts. At the trial, the White Rabbit presents a nonsensical letter as evidence against the Knave, and hence, "The Knave’s Letter" begins with Carroll’s verses set to swift rhythm changes reminiscent of Charlie Parker as the entire cast sing in unison. The Queen then calls for the Knave to be sentenced before the jury has reached a verdict. Alice boldly stands up to the Queen’s absurdity in the "Finale" played in the minor blues style of Charles Mingus. The piece climaxes as Marilyn Keller and Shirley Nanette scat over the ensemble’s swing-jazz riffs, and then everything fades away, all except for Alice who is left alone on the stage. She walks over to the piano and plays a few notes on the keyboards, pondering over her dream and wandering if it was all fiction, or was it indeed real?
Ezra Weiss’ Alice In Wonderland is not only an impressive piece that utilizes the works of legendary jazz artists, but it also shows that swing-jazz chord progressions and blues-inspired arias can give flesh to an iconic piece of classic literature. The play arouses the visual senses while the music excites the aural senses, and together, they work as one.