{Out and About: Alice By Heart}

Last week, I finished up my six show series of seeing a show on Friday night. It all began in January with Clueless: The Musical, and it came to a (temporary!) close with Alice By Heart, an off-Broadway show written and directed by Jessie Nelson and music by Duncan Sheik. The show is a twist on the classic Alice in Wonderland story, in which a young woman is using the classic tale to help her cope with the impending death of a close friend during the World War II London bombings. As they are sheltered in the London Underground, Alice encourages Alfred to relive one of their favorite stories.

Photo by Dean van Meer.

I went into the show wanting to love it because I adore all things Alice in Wonderland, but unfortunately, I did not like it. Perhaps my expectations going in were too high, but I was just not into it at all.

I was so not into it that I almost didn’t write this post at all. I don’t enjoy harping on things I didn’t like. Even if a show isn’t my cup of tea, I know that a lot of people worked really hard on it and are proud of it, and who am I to take away from that? And really, to each his own, as my friend Sarah really liked it (and many audience members seemed to as well). However, in an effort to outline my “out and about” posts, it seemed strange not to post about something simply because I didn’t like it.

The whole night was a little bit off, truth be told. We planned to have dinner at Bar Bacon, a place my friend Sarah and I frequent and have never had a problem visiting. However, on this particular evening, the restaurant was under-staffed and crowded, and it took a solid ten minutes for anyone to even come around and ask how large our party was. We would have left if it weren’t for the fact that we didn’t have a backup plan, and time was running short to get to the theater and it made more sense to just stay put.

However, given that the restaurant had an all bacon menu (including the cocktails), I can’t really complain too much about it! And as we knew the menu pretty well going in, we were able to order quickly and get everything we wanted with plenty of time to spare before arriving at the theater, though it wasn’t exactly the leisurely dinner I had been anticipating when we first made the plans.

Photo by Dean van Meer

Perhaps this weird start to the evening had something to do with my lack of enjoyment of the show. I am definitely blaming the fact that I had trouble following the storyline on my exhaustion of the week rather than on the storyline. All the actors played multiple characters, and it got confusing at times. Each person from the underground shelter became a character in Wonderland, sometimes more than one, and while I know all the Alice characters inside and out, I found it difficult to keep track.

The show had the “kids playing in an attic” kind of feel to it, without the charm that I’ve seen in other productions (the Fiasco Theater’s Into the Woods, for example, does it brilliantly as does Peter and the Starcatcher). I will admit that there were some cool and creative elements, such as the whole cast coming together to create a caterpillar of sorts using their arms, but I found it difficult to expend belief in this situation. Despite the whimsy of it, all the actors remained regular people to me rather than becoming other characters.

When I come across a show that I’m not particularly enjoying while it’s happening, I focus extra hard on the costumes. One thing that I did enjoy was the design for the Queen of Hearts. Her character also doubles as the Red Cross nurse in the London Underground where Alice is staying, and they implemented this into her outfit. Her apron became a long gown, complete with a hoop skirt, and the “hearts” on the skirt and bodice were actually upside-down bloody handprints. Her crown even features little red crosses. Other costuming details were also fun, such as the Duchess, whose skirt looked like it was made out of a parachute (I did really like the way it floated around as she moved). Even though I could see the details from where I was sitting, I found myself wishing we had slightly closer seats so that I could study it just a little bit closer.

Photo by Dean van Meer

Despite my lack of interest in the show, I definitely don’t consider it a waste of an evening. Dinner and a show is always fun, regardless of how the show turns out! And not every show can be a winner for everyone, and I guess this just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Alice by Heart is currently playing at the MCC Theater until April 7. Click here for tickets.

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