Young Artists of America (YAA) took the stage at the Music Center at Strathmore on Saturday, December 3, with over 160 young singers, dancers, and musicians for the national youth premiere of Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland, inspired by the childhood classics of Lewis Carroll. Over 1,500 theatergoers packed Strathmore for this one-time production.
Stage directed by Kristina Friedgen, with choreography by Alyxzandra Blanch and projection design by Dominic Grijalva, the Young Artists of America production was a testament to the versatility and creativity of this organization, celebrating its 10th anniversary year. Young Artists of America, an award-winning arts education nonprofit, serves students in grades 4 through college and is well-known for mounting major theatrical productions in the Washington, DC area. Wonderland on Saturday night did not disappoint.
As Rolando Sanz, Producing Artistic Director, shared in his program notes, “We are honored to give Wonderland the grand scale youth premiere production that it so rightly deserves and to help inspire the next generation of storytellers performing on this stage today.”
The performance featured lyrics by Jack Murphy, book by Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy, original and new symphonic orchestrations by Kim Scharnberg, and was indeed on a grand scale with the YAA company directed by Rolando Sanz, the YAA junior group directed by Paul Heinemann, and the YAA orchestra on stage and conducted by Kristofer Sanz, all coming together for one spectacular performance.
With the production running just over two hours, with one intermission, the show featured 21 musical numbers and gave us a glimpse at a trio of talents one hopes will soon find their way to a Broadway stage: Madi Heinemann as Alice, Katie Reeser as the Queen of Hearts, and Ava Benson as the Mad Hatter. Other delights in the show included: Luka van Herksen as the Caterpillar, Wesley Brubaker as the White Rabbit, Sebastian Gervase as El Gato, Seger Ott-Rudolph as Jack/White Knight, Grace Drasin as Chloe, and Esther Ou as Morris.
The YAA orchestra, and here this reporter must admit her bias—Sara Bock, the first chair clarinetist, is my daughter—also were stars. The extended standing ovation for the entire cast was followed by an equally energetic standing ovation for the forty-plus young musicians, YAA alumni, and guest musicians who comprised the spirited, professional-quality orchestra under the baton of Kristofer Sanz (but as I said, I’m biased.)
This spring, the Young Artists of America follows up its performance of Wonderland with another extraordinary event: the world premiere of The Legacy of Hal Prince, a tribute to the legendary theater director and producer known for his work on West Side Story, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Sweeney Todd, Phantom of the Opera, and many more Broadway hits.
The Legacy of Hal Prince will be presented live only on Saturday, April 1, 2023, at 7:00 pm at Strathmore Music Center, and then air on Maryland Public Television at a time to be announced.
Find more information on the Young Artists of America, including new summer 2023 programs, at their website here.