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“Alice By Heart” At MCC Theatre, Saturday, February 16th, 2019, Reviewed

The most shocking thing about Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s “Alice By Heart” is that in its seven years of development nobody stopped to ask: what on earth are we doing this for?  Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland,” not unlike Shakespeare’s “Romeo And Juliet,” can withstand a lot, I’ve seen a pornographic musical, a nightmare TV play, a Hollywood movie, a serial killer YA series, and a Tim Burton feminist tract, and while not all of them worked, they all started at the jump: a reason to see Alice for the sake of Alice. Not so with “Alice By Heart”.

Duncan Sheik and Steven Slater were behind 2006’s Broadway hit  “Spring Awakening,” based upon  the 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind, strong songs and teenage sex, but Duncan’s next musical was the disastrous “American Psycho” -an expensive piece of dreck, and so this one, back with Slater, is important without being good. There is an air raid that has Londoners hiding underground from the Luftwaffe and Alice Spencer (an overtly lush Molly Goodman) reads “Alice In Wonderland” to Alfred Hallam -who is dying from tuberculosis. As she reads the story the other denizens of the Underground act out the book with dance and song. But how does Alice fit into a bizarre WWII horror story? It isn’t that Slater fails to seam the two together, it is that they don’t unite into a whole, it makes no sense as anything much.

On a first listen the songs are difficult to access, there are seventeen, and none of them stay with you very much though as the story gets nastier and more brutal, “Chillin’ The Regrets” as a certain amount of hard push, the instrumentation is essentially a rock ensemble and the anger infuses it, the one that gets attention, “Afternoon” isn’t good, though “Isn’t It A Trial” isn’t bad -as Oscar Hammerstein once put it, nobody can hear the melodies first time round. Though, whatever the music adds it gets old fast fast. All anybody does for 90 minutes is snap at each other, everyone is so mean spirited and cruel (“Brillig Braellig” oversells Jabberwocky by a mile) that it ends up being a nuthouse that shouldn’t be here, why is it here? It doesn’t connect to Alfred (Colton Ryan), it doesn’t connect to the time period, it seems to have no inner logic. It’s all about “by heart” and not about “alice” and it drags itself virulently to the finish line with Alfred’s death. It certainly doesn’t connect to the ensemble who sell it hard, too hard: it is so over the damn top.

All the energy on the stage is powerful but misplaced, it is too down, too depressing, everybody is in a place of extreme danger, and one person is virtually dead, and all the dancing and songs are overpoweringly negative, shrill, harsh, with the least sexy orgy ever seen in the middle. None of it makes the slightest bit of sense. And the leads, Colton, who proved he was at home with brooding, introverted young men in the Bob Dylan tone Americana musical “Girl From The North Country,” is too upset to be pleasant, meanwhile 23 year old Molly Goodman is stuck in an unplayable role that lacks any center of gravity whatsoever.

The show runs without an intermission (the intermission appears to be dying, along with the septuagrans who make up Broadway (and off-Broadway’s) audience), it is an unpleasant experience and although it has been extended twice (though it hasn’t actually opened yet), it will not do much business anywhere.

 

Grade: C-

 

 

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