Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, the Tony- and Grammy-winning creators of the hit Broadway show Spring Awakening, have reunited, along with director and co-book writer Jessie Nelson (Waitress), for a new take on perennial classic Alice in Wonderland. Titled Alice by Heart, this adaptation of the Lewis Carroll tale is set amid the rubble of World War II London. Leading the cast of the MCC production, which has its opening night set for February 26th, is Molly Gordon as Alice and Colton Ryan as Alfred/The White Rabbit.
Sheik was last on Broadway with a musical production of American Psycho, which had an electronic music influence due to its setting in New Wave-era New York City. As can be witnessed in the song “Afternoon,” his and Simon Hale’s orchestrations have returned to his alt-pop roots.
“Working along with Simon, I knew we would be able to bring the sounds of WWII into the picture of the whole show with just three instruments; cello, woodwinds and brass to make a 1941,” Sheik says. “Even the Beatles would do pastiches of musical tunes of the Forties in their songs and still make it the Beatles. Simon comes from that legacy. Some of the cello parts even pay homage to ‘Eleanor Rigby’.”
Sater, who wrote the show’s book and lyrics, had the arduous task of making a new version of Alice believable and relatable to a contemporary audience. “In our show, the war and the world are transformed within the imagination of a displaced young girl. And so, I felt very free stylistically to draw on the subversive wit of Lewis Carroll’s original text,” Sater says. “‘Afternoon’ is the penultimate song of our new show — it’s a farewell to Wonderland. The poetry of the lyric is meant to suggest that our young lovers are turning the last page of their beloved book.”
Sater and Sheik have been collaborating since 1999, and, as Sheik explains, “I think he is a genius. He is ‘out there,’ eccentric and unique and that’s why I love him. I try to make sure my music has those qualities in it.”
MCC Theater’s production of Alice By Heart is currently in previews at the company’s brand-new theatre, The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space.