Kate Burton, a picture-book Alice; Eva Le Gallienne, the White Queen; 50 years later, 'Alice in Wonderland' seems more literal than fanciful; Alice in Wonderland Play with music, adapted by Eva Le Gallienne and Florida Friebus from Lewis Carroll's ''Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'' and ''Through the Looking Glass.'' Music by Richard Addinsell. Production conceived and directed by Miss Le Gallienne, codirected by John Strasberg.
New York — Fifty years ago this month, a Victorian classic of wit and fantasy became a theatrical treat for New Yorkers. It was then that the Civic Repertory Company presented the Eva Le Gallienne-Florida Friebus version of Lewis Carroll's ''Alice'' stories and incidental verse. In 1947, the production was revived under the auspices of the American Repertory Theater.
As if to combine an anniversary celebration with a holiday gala, the teeming, pun-filled, topsy-turvy world of Lewis Carroll has come again to stage life, this time at the newly redecorated Virginia Theater. Once more, Miss Le Gallienne is the moving spirit of the enterprise and also its ineffable White Queen. Kate Burton heads the numerous cast as the insatiably curious child to whom the Wonderland adventures occur.
In her blue frock, white pinafore and socks, and shiny black shoes, Miss Burton is a charmingly picture-book Alice with a properly story-book attitude. Among the furred, feathered, finned, shelled, and human creatures she encounters along the way are the tardy White Rabbit (Curt Dawson); the catechizing Caterpillar (John Heffernan); the Duchess and her Cook (Edward Zang and Richard Sterne) and the baby who turns into a piglet; the grinning Cheshire Cat (voiced by Geddeth Smith); the March Hare (Josh Clark), Mad Hatter (MacIntyre Dixon), and Dormouse (Nicholas Martin); the Walrus, Carpenter, and Oysters (the Puppet People); and of course the heartless Queen of Hearts and her consorts (Brian Reddy and Richard Woods), not to mention the unfortunate Knave (John Seidman).
The principals of act two include the fleet-footed Red Queen (Mary Louise Wilson), Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Robert Ott Boyle and John Remme); the flying White Queen (Miss Le Gallienne); Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Mr. Woods); and the creaky White Knight (Mr. Dawson). The adaptors have been laudably faithful to their generous source.
Unfortunately, the episodic travelogue seemed not to have hit its stride at the time of the final preview. While John Lee Beatty's rolling backdrop panoramas provide a deluxe Cook's tour of illustrator John Tenniel country, the elaborate, wheeled-on set pieces do nothing to accelerate the pace of a ponderous production. And pictorially effective as they are, Patricia Zipprodt's fantastic costumes, masques, and disguises seem at times to limit the actors rather than free them. Jennifer Tipton has lighted the extravaganza extravagantly.
With several notable exceptions, the playing tends to be more literal than fanciful. Furthermore, the performance of Richard Addinsell's incidental songs sounds mostly like an attempt at singing rather than an exercise of the art. The movement, such as it is, has been credited to Bambi Linn, though the producers acknowledge a little outside help from their friends. In any case, considering the expansive references to Miss Le Gallienne in the Playbill credits, it must be assumed that this is the way she wanted it.
Perhaps a work once hailed as charmingly innovative has been overtaken by subsequent developments in the world of musical theater and is now simply dated. Perhaps an elaborate, $2 million revival, with its opulent designs, gives less rein to the imaginations of its performers than the more modest $23,000 original.
Carroll's comic verbal flights and relish over the antic uses of literalism are still the source of amusement and delight, especially in an age when the mother tongue has become so flattened, misused, and neglected. The nimble and faithfully preserved text of ''Alice in Wonderland'' receives less than its due in the picturesque but uncertain revival at the Virginia.