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“Alice By Heart” at No Square Theatre

From the Tony and Grammy award-winning creators of “Spring Awakening”, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, and co-written by Jessie Nelson of “Waitress”, “Alice by Heart” is a magical musical inspired by the timeless classic novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.  

By MaryAnn DiPietro

After hearing the music for “Alice by Heart”, the 2019 Off-Broadway musical has been on Ella Wyatt’s radar. She continuously checked for the performing rights to become available and as they did, she knew it just had to be part of the No Square Theatre 2024 Season. 

"Alice by Heart" was brought to life by the Tony and Grammy award-winning duo Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, along with co-writer Jessie Nelson, known for her work on "Waitress." Inspired by the timeless classic novel, “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland”, this production promises to transport audiences into a whimsical world where reality and fantasy seamlessly entwine. 

Ella Wyatt, a multifaceted force at the heart of No Square Theatre, became aware of this show in a slight inception moment during Covid; a musical dealing with quarantine during a time when everyone was living in quarantine, she found the music beautiful and therapeutic. Not only is she the director of "Alice by Heart”, but she is also in her first year as Artistic Director at No Square Theatre. Although new in her current role, she has been involved in various capacities at the theatre for over 15 years. She also serves as the drama teacher at San Clemente High School.

Roni Dvir, Brennan Eckberg, Lexi Maedov, and Maverick Wyatt

"I knew we had to have it!” Wyatt exclaims with enthusiasm. Wyatt, an advocate for the intimate storytelling that a smaller venue can offer, sees the potential for profound connections with the audience. In her own words, "It is not really a challenge at all." To Wyatt, a compelling narrative trumps flashy sets, and an implied minimalist approach becomes a canvas for the imagination.

The musical takes place in 1941 London during the Blitz of World War II and follows the journey of Alice Spencer and her friend Alfred, who have been forced to take shelter in an underground tube station. The pair combat the harsh realities of war alongside their subterranean neighbors. Alfred’s tuberculosis requires him to quarantine, prompting the duo to seek refuge in the pages of their beloved childhood book, “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland”.

The story is that of exploration, escapism, and resilience as the characters immerse themselves in the fantastical world created in the classic Lewis Carroll novel. Their favorite book is eventually ripped up as punishment for Alice’s visiting Alfred despite him being quarantined due to his illness. She becomes defiant and says she knows the book “by heart” and will read it to him anyway. 

While many audience members will be most familiar with the iconic characters from the Disney film, such as the White Rabbit, Caterpillar(s) not one but two this time, the Cheshire Cat, and the Queen of Hearts, Wyatt says, ”I did not want cartoon characters.” She challenges her cast to navigate a balance between their characters and real-life human personas. Rather than becoming caricatures as the residents of the underground station morph, she encourages her cast of ten adults and two children to reside equally between being victims of a war-torn world and also inhabitants of a quirky Wonderland. 

The cast of "Alice by Heart" at No Square Theatre

Working diligently behind the scenes, the production team behind "Alice by Heart” also includes Roxanna Ward in the role of Musical Director, Sabrina Harper as choreographer, and Blake Huntley takes charge of the lighting design—a crucial element in capturing the essence of both the subway station's reality and Wonderland's make-believe. Wyatt expresses particular excitement about Huntley’s ability to transport the audience between the two worlds through the strategic use of lighting and forced perspective which promises to be a visual feast, enhancing the audience's immersion into the story.

As the new telling of a classic tale unfolds, the journey is accompanied by a live six-piece band, including piano, bass, drums, guitar, cello, and woodwinds. The live band is sure to add a dynamic layer to the storytelling. “The music is beautiful and reminiscent of "Spring Awakening” but with other styles mixed in. There are no ‘skip songs’ in this show.” ‘Skip songs’  are those songs in just about every musical or on every album, the one song that you press next once it starts to play. “Not in this show,” says Ella.

“Alice by Heart” is poised to be a testament in storytelling where the magic unfolds in the music and in the shared journey between the audience and the characters. Wyatt hopes the audience will leave not only entertained but with an understanding that "relationships change, people change." Reflecting on the impact of those who are no longer part of our lives, she notes, "All of the things that got us to where we are now are always a part of us. No one is ever fully gone, the story is never done.”

MaryAnn DiPietro is an actor, singer, pianist, and writer. 

“Alice by Heart”

No Square Theatre

384 Legion St. Laguna Beach, California

March 8-17, 2024

(949) 715-0333,

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Due to popular demand, Alice By Heart at No Square Theatre has been extended through March 24!

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