In this latest musical inspired by Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Alice (Molly Gordon) is a British teenager in 1941 who takes shelter in the Underground with other young victims of the London Blitz, including her childhood friend Alfred (Colton Ryan), who is very ill and, in the words of the insensitive Red Cross Nurse (Grace McLean) “good as dead.” To escape the horror, Alice retreats into her imagination — or, more precisely, she enters into Lewis Carroll’s imagination. She begins reading “Alice in Wonderland” and then starts living it. Each of the characters in the bomb shelter become characters in Carroll’s story: Alfred becomes the White Rabbit and later the March Hare. The Red Cross Nurse becomes – you saw this coming – the Queen of Hearts, and later Magpie. Noah Galvin (late of Dear Evan Hanson on Broadway and The Real O’Neals on TV) portrays a fey character in the shelter named Dodgy, who becomes the Duchess in lipstick, blonde wig and hoop skirt, and then several other characters. You get the idea.
There is much to like about this show, three things above all – the inventive choreography by the brother team of Rick Kuperman and Jeff Kuperman (a highlight: when the entire cast turns into a single giant caterpillar); the colorful costumes by Paloma Young, and the charming performances by a dozen diverse talented young cast members, many of them familiar (and welcome) faces. There were also some moments of wonderful stagecraft, such as a kind of trickster shadow puppetry, in which Alice appears to lose her head.
Yet, although it is put together by the songwriting team behind “Spring Awakening” and directed and co-written by the book writer of “Waitress,” it wasn’t those two one-of-a-kind musical adaptations that came most to mind throughout the 80 minutes of “Alice By Heart.” It was “Frankenstein.” I should explain. Just last month, after seeing yet another adaptation of Mary Shelley’s story, I wrote: “I think I can speak without fear of contradiction that the world did not need another version of Frankenstein.” Was the world pining for yet another take on Alice in Wonderland?
I might have felt differently if the 18 songs by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater in “Alice By Heart” were as distinctive as their music for “Spring Awakening,” but, despite Jason Hart’s catchy vocal arrangements, this new score offered echoes of their earlier work without being especially memorable. And the plot, to the limited extent that one existed beyond Carroll’s, did little more than begin at the beginning, and go on till it came to the end, then stopped.
As Alice adaptations go, “Alice By Heart” falls somewhere between “Then She Fell” (Third Rail Project’s long-running immersive version) and “Wonderland” (Frank WIldhorn’s 2011 Broadway bomb) — an intermittently entertaining but hardly mandatory return down the rabbit hole.
Click on any photograph by Deen van Meer to see it enlarged and read the captions.
Alice By Heart
Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater
Book by Steven Sater with Jessie Nelson
Music By Duncan Sheik
Lyrics By Steven Sater
Choreography by Rick And Jeff Kuperman
Directed by Jessie Nelson
Scenic design by Donyale Werle, costume design by Paloma Young, lighting design byBradley King, sound design by Dan Moses Schreier, hair, wig and makeup design by J. Jared Janas, orchestrations by Duncan Sheik, additional orchestrations by Simon Hale, music direction and vocal arrangements by Jason Hart
Cast: Molly Gordon as Alice, Colton Ryan as Alfred/The White Rabbit, Mia DiLena, Zachary Downer, Noah Galvin as Dodgy/Duchess/Dodo/Mock Turtle, Zachary Infante as Nigel/Dormouse/Eaglet/Knave of Clubs, Andrew Kober as Dr. Butridge, King of Hearts, Duck, Jabberwocky, Mock Turtle, Grace McLean as Red Cross Nurse/Queen of Hearts/Magpie, Nkeiki Obi-Melekwe as Tabatha/Cheshire Cat/Caterpillar 2, Catherine Ricafort as Clarissa/Canary/Queen of Diamonds/Mock Mock Mock Turtle, Heath Saunders as Angus/Caterpillar/Knave of Hearts, and Wesley Taylor as Harold Pudding/Mad Hatter/Pigeon/Knave of Spades/Mock Mock Turtle
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $35 to $130
Alice By Heart is scheduled to run through April 7, 2019