The Family Stages' production of Alice in Wonderland on July 9 had parents and children laughing alike.

Sarah J. Gafgen, put in a whimsical, energetic performance as the titular Alice, and Maddie Iacobucci showcased her versatility, playing the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and the rest of the colorful Wonderland cast.

"This is geared especially for (children)," Iacobucci, who started with the Oreland, Pa.,-based troupe this summer, said. "It's not super long; they can sit through it and have an exposure to the arts, which is really important."

The performance was part of the Egg Harbor Township Recreation Department's Monday Morning Madness series. Programs are usually held on the grounds of the Egg Harbor Township Library at 1 Swift Ave., but due to damage from last month's storm the series has been indefinitely relocated to the Egg Harbor Township Community Center at 5045 English Creek Ave. They are held at 11 a.m. Monday mornings.

The program began 20 years ago as part of a summer camp run by the township Recreation Department but was soon expanded to include all residents, Recreation Department Director Bob Lincoln said.

"Well, initially it was part of the camp structure, an activity to do, but we figured, why restrict that?" Lincoln said.

Lincoln said the department has fine-tuned the format of the program during its two decades to best fit its family audience. Because many of the younger viewers may struggle to pay attention to long programs, a typical show fits into a sweet spot of about 45 minutes to an hour.

Programs tend to be visually engaging, as was the case with the Family Stages performance, or are based on audience participation, as is the case with programs like Chad Juros' upcoming magic show. Often, shows are a bit of both.

"It's something different for young kids to do with their parents," Lincoln said. "There's not a lot of activities for the little guys, not that these things are purely for little guys - today's can probably cross over. It's just a little quick activity; it doesn't last more than an hour."

The performance July 9 not only had children giggling at Iacobucci's and Gafgen's wacky antics, but kept parents interested, as well.

Abbie Chapnick, who lives in Florida most of the year but lives in Mays Landing during the summer, said she found the program's appeal bridged the generations.

"I liked it," Chapnick said. "I thought it was pretty humorous. It had a lot of humor for grown-ups."

Chapnick brought her son, Jacob, 5 and daughter, Livia, 6, to the performance. The pair are no strangers to theater, having recently returned from a summer acting camp, their mother said.

Jacob couldn't contain his excitement as he gushed about Family Stages' performance, saying he particularly enjoyed a running gag in which the absent-minded Mad Hatter several times offered Alice tea from an empty pot.

"It was funny because the Mad Hatter was so funny," Jacob said. "He didn't have any tea!"

Juros will perform July 23. Other programs still to come this summer are the Allo and Friends magic and ventriloquism show July 30, Mr. Scott the Music Man on Aug. 6 and Tucker's Tales' Puppet Theater's "It's The Wolf" on Aug. 8.

Contact Braden Campbell:

609-272-7415

If you go

What: Egg Harbor Township Recreation Department's Monday Morning Madness

When: Mondays, 11 a.m.

Where: Egg Harbor Township Community Center, 5045 English Creek Ave. or the Egg Harbor Township Branch of the Atlantic County Library, 1Swift Ave.

How much: Free

More info: Call 272-8120 or visit ehtgov.org

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