Adventures in Underland
You're not on shrooms.
By Andrew KingPublished March 1, 2013
That really is a Vietnam vet sitting next to what appears to be a giant cat.
Shadowbox Live’s newest original musical involves psychedelics, drug trips, and hippies – and a nod to one of the most well read books of all time. Underland premiers at Shadowbox on March 3, and the show pairs a post-Vietnam San Francisco setting with inspirations from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland for a somewhat unorthodox combination.
“Alice is tied to psychedelia,” said Shadowbox head writer Jimmy Mak, who wrote the musical, citing numerous drug references in the classic tale. “So I thought, what if I take the structure of that story, but I make my own story out of it with a vet coming home looking for his lost daughter.”
The musical centers around Vietnam veteran Albert Ice (Al Ice, get it?), who is on a quest to find his lost daughter in 1967 San Francisco. Following Ice’s journey, viewers will see similarities to Alice’s adventures, but Mak says the show was not written too closely to the Carroll story.
In fact, he says he didn’t even re-read the book, instead choosing to loosely interpret. “The inspiration based on a source material and making something new... it’s kind of the first time I’ve done something like that,” Mak said. “My goal was that if you’ve never even seen or heard Alice in Wonderland you’ll still enjoy it, and if you have, I think you’ll be a little geeked out.”
While the mixture of the two concepts might seem odd, Mak says the connection was an easy one.
“ was the year that like thousands of kids from America were flooding into this one neighborhood,” he said. “This guy would very much be like the confused little girl in Alice.”
Some obvious tie-ins to the classic come from the show’s characters. Mercury, the first head shop owner in San Francisco, who calls himself the God of Speed, represents the Mad Hatter. His wife is Harriet, a reference to Alice’s hare. Mak compared Ice’s lost daughter to the white rabbit and a character named Mouse, representing the first mouse Alice sees.
Two of the more elaborate interpretations are a trio of groupies for the band The Byrds, a reference to the three birds Alice encounters, and a cat with a missing arm based on the Cheshire Cat, who Mak says, “messes with [Ice’s] head a bit.”
The show is another first for Shadowbox, marking its first excursion into online fundraising via popular website Kickstarter to raise money for a show that Shadowbox hoped would be a more visually appealing experience.
“We saw other bigger companies in town using Kickstarter, and we realized that we might be able to get help and not just do it all ourselves and really make this thing pop,” Mak said. “If you’re going to try to do an Alice kind of story, I think there’s a little bit of grandiosity that comes along with that.”
The initial goal of $16,500 was set up on Jan. 15, with tickets, appearances in the special thanks section, and various signed memorabilia offered as a reward for donations. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned over our years of producing original projects, it’s this: it takes a tremendous amount of capital to produce a show of this size,” Shadowbox CEO Stev Guyer said in an initial message to donors.
On Feb. 1, after just more than two weeks, the goal had already been met. The fundraiser, at press time, was nearing $19,000, and the funds will go toward things like costumes, sets, +and man-hours. The initial success, however, doesn’t mean that Shadowbox will become reliant on Kickstarter for its funds.
“We want to be careful with it. You don’t want to just throw it out for every project,” Mak said. “But we do so much original stuff here, it’s not like you can look at set design or see what people have done before. When you start something from scratch like that there’s a lot of work that goes into it.”
Underland may just be debuting, but Mak and Shadowbox aren’t resting on their laurels just yet. Mak says he’s working on a sequel to Burlesque de Voyage, among other projects. “Honestly, I’ve probably got four half sketched-out ideas for musicals,” he laughed.
Underland debuts on Sunday, March 3, and runs on select Sundays through May 19. General admission tickets cost $30, or $20 for students, seniors and military. For more, visit www.shadowboxlive.com.