Talking animals invade Eagle River
Andrew Smith’s acting career has come full circle — almost.
The 17-year-old from Wasilla got his start at the Alaska Fine Arts Academy in Eagle River as the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland in his early teens. Starting on Friday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m., Smith is leaving the role of talking animal to several other willing thespians.
Instead of a mischievous grinning feline, Smith will portray a human who can communicate with animals as the lead role in The Adventures of Doctor Dolittle.
Smith, a University of Alaska Anchorage freshman who teaches a class on Shakespeare in his hometown, said the musical is more complex than people realize.
“I think Doctor Dolittle is deceivingly deep,” he said.
The musical, which continues Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 22 at 7 p.m., follows John Dolittle on a voyage to Africa to save a group of dying monkeys, said first-time director Robin Bassett. In Africa, Dolittle encounters a group of cannibals and incompetent pirates, she said.
The play’s familiar plot was one reason Bassett said she was drawn to the production.
“Everyone remembers the story,” she said.
The script also gave Bassett an opportunity to include several children in the show, she said.
“There are a lot of really great kids,” Bassett said.
But ultimately, the play’s message is what sold Bassett on Doctor Dolittle.
“It’s a really good story about believing and achieving what you believe,” she said. “I just really loved the message of listening to another point of view.”
Tickets are $14 for general admission. Military and seniors 65 and older are $12 and children 12 and younger are $8. Tickets can be purchased at www.akfinearts.org.
Like Smith, Chugiak High senior Caitlin Hamilton said working with the children in the cast has been fun.
“I like working with the kids a lot,” Hamilton said. “Just getting to see them coming out of their shell and get into the arts.”
Smith can relate. Smith said his role in Alice in Wonderland helped him overcome his shyness.
“It was through theater that I stepped out of my shell,” Smith said.
The speed of the play appeals to 11-year-old Ryan Lumbert.
“It’s a fun pace,” said Lumbert, who portrays the cannibal king.
Playing the counterpart to Hamilton — the cannibal queen, is fun — Lumbert said.
“I like being the evil guy,” he said.
The show has something for everyone, Hamilton said. It contains adult humor and child-friendly song and dance, she said.
“It’s appealing to all ages,” Hamilton said.
Bassett said she was proud of everyone’s efforts needed to put on the musical.
“It’s really amazing how many people it takes to pull this off,” she said.
As someone who has acted in several plays at the Alaska Fine Arts Academy, Bassett said Chugiak-Eagle River residents have always been supportive of the theater — a trend she hopes will continue long into the future.
“We’re often humbled by the support we get from the community,” she said.
Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or [email protected]