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He Says: MCC’s Alice by Heart Stumbles On Its Way to Wonderland Awakening

He Says: MCC’s Alice by Heart Stumbles On Its Way to Wonderland Awakening

Rolling into the lovely new Robert W. Wilson MCC Theatre Space, the new musical, Alice by Heart tries desperately to find its footing in the often-mined landscape of Wonderland. Hidden below the pubescent sexually electric surface, is a descent worthy of exploration as directed by Jessie Nelson (“I Am Sam“) who co-wrote the book with lyricist, Steven Sater (A.R.T.’s Prometheus Bound), with an overly complicated but sometimes compelling musical score by Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening). But bouncing along the haphazard journey is a fascinating concept with a convoluted and discombobulated execution. Straddled somewhere between numerous English coming of age fantasies and the Germanesque Spring Awakening, a gaggle of English children hunker down in a makeshift bomb shelter in an Underground station during the Blitz of WWII London, circa 1941, hoping to find sanctuary and escape in the retelling of this famed tale. Recited by memory, some of them find peace from the danger overhead, while others seem to battle the distraction with brattiness for no apparent reason other than they feel the need to. Which in this misshapen recreation, is a reason worth repeating by all.

Alice By Heart
The cast of MCC Theater’s ALICE BY HEART
Photo Credit: Deen van Meer

The beautifully created safety zone, designed with an intrinsic eye for detail and beauty by Edward Pierce (worldwide Wicked), with spectacularly dynamic lighting by Bradley King (Broadway’s Bernhardt/Hamlet), and lopsided sound by Dan Moses Schreier (Broadway’s The Iceman Cometh), is ruled over by an authoritarian Red Cross nurse, played with stiff polish by Grace McLean (Broadway’s Natasha, Pierre…), who, not surprisingly, manifests herself into the perfectly diabolical Queen of Hearts with an easy spin of her soul. Standing by her side is a dismissive Doctor by the name of Butridge, portrayed solidly by Andrew Kober (Broadway’s School of Rock), naturally becoming the King to her Queen. Forced by the two tyrants to behave, a young wide-eyed Alice Spencer, portrayed earnestly by a gung-ho Molly Gordon (Point Grey Pictures’ “Good Boys“) finds hope and romantic awakening with the arrival of the very handsome young crush, Alfred Hallam, her ‘White Rabbit’ love, played with sweet sickliness by the engaging Colton Ryan (Public’s Girl From…). Finding him quite ill and being labeled as beyond hope, Alice rips away her wrap revealing the iconic blue dress of Alice, courtesy of the magnificent costuming by Paloma Young (Broadway’s Bandstand), and with her Alfred, heads “Down the Hole“. Her Alice is shaky in her delivery but steadfast in her resolve, but Ryan balances her out, adding emotional stability to the bomb rocked space.

Alice By Heart
Molly Gordon, Colton Ryan and the cast of MCC Theater’s ALICE BY HEART
Photo Credit: Deen van Meer

It’s not the most subtle of structures, using story-telling as an escape from danger and disease with an added layer of clumsy sexual sentimentality, but it’s also not the more clear-cut creation either. Her precious book is torn apart by the heartless nurse, but with determination, she starts to tell the tale by heart. Her linear thinking is as clear minded as the writers, muddying up the telling with numerous pauses and delays, while Ryan’s White Rabbit keeps reminding her they are all running out of time. The symbolism, once again, is not subtle, nor is this telling that easy to follow or stay engaged with beyond its fascinating visuals.

Alice By Heart
Molly Gordon, Andrew Kober, Noah Galvin, Grace McLean, and the cast of MCC Theater’s ALICE BY HEART 
Photo Credit: Deen van Meer

The cast is game though, and very invigorated by the task at hand. Each one of these kids hiding out in the subway platform from German bombs dons many other Wonderland hats, gloves, and dresses, each given a character from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” to encapsulate. Heath Saunders (NBC’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’) is the first who climbs out and forward as the seductive Caterpillar (also: Angus/Knave of Hearts) singing the engaging “Chillin’ the Regrets” with an assist from Kim Blanck (Public Works’ Twelfth Night) who also thrills with her role of the Cheshire Cat (also: Tabatha). Both are strong and interesting creations, especially when paired with the athletic and inventive choreography of Rick and Jeff Kuperman (A.R.T./New Victory’s The Light Princess). The team’s work is fantastically dynamic and powerful with moves and the balletic pronouncements that are inspired and uplifting. This, along with the incredible Noah Galvin (title character/Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen) as the Duchess (also: Dodgy/Dodo/Mock Mock Mock Mock Turtle) with the show stopper, “Manage Your Flamingo“. He, and they are each bloody good reasons to follow Alice down the rabbit hole, but sadly, not quite enough of a reason to want to stay.

Alice By Heart
Noah Galvin in MCC Theaters ALICE BY HEART
Photo Credit: Deen van Meer

The damaged young child, Harold Pudding, who also dons the Mad Hatter hat, played with frantic madness by Wesley Taylor (Broadway’s SpongeBob…) is given a perfect vehicle for his manic energy in the exciting “Sick to Death of Alice-ness” performed to perfection with the sleepy Dormouse (also: Nigel/Eaglet/Knave of Clubs), portrayed beautifully by Zachary Infante (NYCC Encores’ Big River) and Ryan’s eclectic White Rabbit. The Mock Mock Mock Turtles’ song “Your Shell of Grief” is also a highlight in terms of invigorating performances by Catherine Ricafort (Broadway’s Allegiance) (also: Clarissa/Canary/Queen of Diamonds), Galvin, and the ensemble, made up of Mia Dilena (Disney’s “The Music Man“), Zachary Downer (Broadway’s Hello, Dolly!), and others.

Alice By Heart
Colton Ryan, Wesley Taylor, Zachary Infante, and Molly Gordon in MCC Theater’s ALICE BY HEART 
Photo: Deen van Meer

But as a whole, with music direction and vocal arrangements by Jason Hart (Broadway’s American Psycho), with additional arrangements credited to Simon Hale (Broadway’s Finding Neverland) the bits and pieces fail to add up to anything coherent as they tumble-down the rabbit hole to Wonderland scattering the storyline into fragments.  I was lost, even with the movements and design being so well choreographed with intricate detailing. The talk was in riddles and the direction was all fascinating tableaux with nonsensical side steps, but Dearest Dodo, please explain the importance of the mocking of the mock turtles and who that puffing caterpillar really is. Cause in the end, even with the delightful tea party so well executed, the whole reason for being, beyond that the Key is all me, fails to land safely at the bottom of the Wonderland rabbit hole unscathed.

Alice By Heart
Wesley Taylor, Molly Gordon, Colton Ryan, and Zachary Infante in MCC Theater’s ALICE BY HEART
Photo Credit: Deen van Meer

For more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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