As I first listened to the new cast recording of Alice by Heart I was immediately reminded of the music from Spring Awakening and Rent. This new musical has music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater, who also wrote the music for Spring Awakening. This original musical is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The music and lyrics from this musical have a psychedelic feel, which seems fitting since it is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland. From listening to the cast recording of Alice by Heart it feels distinctive compared to other recordings I have listened to recently. I write that statement in a positive light as the music and lyrics are full of metaphors, magic and riddles, which makes this cast recording intriguing to listen to.
Alice by Heart opened Off-Broadway in 2019 at the MCC Theater in New York City. In addition to the music by Duncan Sheik and lyrics by Steven Sater, the book is by Sater and Jessie Nelson. Ghostlight Records describes this show as: “In the rubble of the London Blitz of World War II, Alice Spencer’s budding teen life is turned upside down, and she and her dear friend Alfred are forced to take shelter in an underground tube station. When the ailing Alfred is quarantined, Alice encourages him to escape with her into their cherished book and journey down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.” Listening to the music one can hear how the music addresses such themes as love, loss and finding the courage to survive. There are some songs that are unusual in their lyrics such as “Manage the Flamingo” and “Brillig Braelig.” There are others that are full of emotion and passion such as “Some Things Fall Away” and “Another Room in Your Head.” This is definitely a cast recording that I took the time to simply sit, listen and immerse myself in the music and lyrics. The cast recording of Alice by Heart is an album that envelopes the listener in the story.
What I really like about this recording is the way in which the music requires the listener to pay attention to the lyrics because they tell a story. I feel there are other popular musicals that also do this such as Hadestown, Hamilton and In the Heights. Those shows are the ones that I find myself listening to most often in order to experience the story within the lyrics. If you have any interest in the story of Alice by Heart I would advise setting some time aside and just listening to the lyrics. One of my favorite songs on the entire recording is the song “Still” performed by Colton Ryan and Molly Gordon. This song is beautiful and haunting, and wonderfully performed by Ryan and Gordon. Another highlight on the recording is "Some Things Fall Away" performed by Kim Blanck. It is an exquisite song with lovely vocals. Containing lyrics such as “Sorrow calls with the evening/ The wind beneath your door/Shadows pause at the window/Meet their gaze/Their grief is yours,” this song is full of sorrow. One more song I want to highlight is the song “Brillig Braelig.” This song is basically the scene in which Alice fights the Jabberwocky and the song is performed by Andrew Kober, Molly Gordon and the Alice By Heart Company. What makes this song memorable for me is the fact that I have always thought of the poem “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll as a bit bizarre and the music and lyrics for the song “Brillig Braelig” seem to encapsulate the eccentric spirit of the Jabberwocky.
The Off-Broadway recording of Alice by Heart is available for purchase through Ghostlight Records. For more information and to purchase this recording please visit https://www.ghostlightrecords.com/alice-by-heart.html.
Kelli Curtin is founding editor and writer for theatresensation.com. She has maintained a love of the performing arts since a very early age and she is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.