Meryl Streep does everything in her power to make the new Elizabeth Swados adaptation at the Public/Anspacher Theater a dream of an entertainment. And whenever possible, Miss Streep succeeds. "Alice in Concert" views the well-loved Alice stories in terms of children's games, with toy props to match. The large company, many of whose members play several Parts, is clad by designer Theoni V. Aldrige in a motley of jogging pants, leotards, and similar casual wear.
Alice (Miss Streep) is a moppet in blue overalls who plunges in imagination down the rabbit role and sets out on her wonderland adventures. Miss Streep plays Carroll's small heroine with a marvelous combination of good sense and juvenile abandon. Her physical and histrionic energy are enormous. She can contort her body like a wriggly child or a boneless Raggedy Ann doll.
The highly visualized concert begins with a choral ringing of handbells that creates a bright carillon effect. Thereafter, Miss Swados divises words and music for most of the best known Carroll incidents and characters. Graciela Daniele's choreography furnishes the restless cavortions that account for much of the show's liveliness.
"Alice in Concert" suffers, however, both from a kind of precosity and from a sense of diminishing delights as its novelty wears off.Furthermore, Miss Swados herself creates a distraction for two-thirds of the audience by conducting across the arena stage from her orchestra. As director, Joseph Papp has composer-conductor- accompanist-participant.
The eclectic and frequently pleasant Swados score, a cluster of variegated themes and rhythms, is well performed by a responsive stage orchestra playing her customary assembly of conventional and exotic instruments. Designers Michael H. Yeargan (setting) and Arden Fingerhut (lighting) and an enthusiastic company have cooperated to make a fun occasion of "Alice in Concert.' And Miss Streep is marvelous.