"Alice by Heart" - by Steven Sater, Jessie Nelson and Duncan Sheik - The Cannon Theatre (Devens, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: The CAST of "ALICE BY HEART" by Steven Sater, Jessie Nelson and Duncan Sheik now playing at Cannon Theatre in Devens, MA. through May 26, 2024. Photo Credit: Shawn Cannon)

By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724

“And something whispers of something gone, a little Chesire bird. West of words, west of words.”

  - ("Alice, Alfred, Tabatha & Co.") / Steven Sater, Jessie Nelson and Duncan Sheik


The Cannon Theatre

Presents the Musical


Written by Steven Sater and Jessie Nelson

Music by Duncan Sheik

Directed and Choreographed by Shawn Cannon  

Music Direction by Emily Stratton 

Produced by Rachel Cieslik 

Stage Managed by Ashton Lubin

Cast Includes: Eliza Bean as “Alice,” Jonathan Guerra  as “Alfred/White Rabbit,” Micah Guerre  as “March Hare/Mock Mock Turtle,” Madison Crory as “Nurse/Queen of Hearts,” Michael Templeton  as “Dr. Butridge/King of Hearts,” Kaitlyn Scott  as “Harold/Mad Hatter/Knave of Spades,” Kiki Bean as “Tabatha/Cheshire Cat,” Erin Shine as “Dodgy/Duchess/Mock, Mock, Mock, Mock Turtle,” Eleanor Stanton  as “Clarissa/Queen of Diamonds,” Amanda Buszkiewicz  as “Nigel/Dormouse/Knave of Clubs,” Katherine Adel  as “Angus/Caterpillar/Knave of Hearts,” Patrick Cortis as “Jabberwock/Mock Turtle,” Yeshua Guerra  as “Mock Mock Mock Turtle.” 

Additional Creative Team:

Tech Director/Set Build/Light Operator - Bret Bahe; Lighting Design - Jake Snyder; Sound Design - Bret Bahe; Set Design/Hair Design/Props - Shawn Cannon; Sound Operator/Props - Rachel Cieslik; Costumes Design - Shawn Cannon; Backstage Crew - Izzy Portante; Hair Assistant - Adrienne Nash; Set Decorating andPainting - Rachel Cieslik, Kaitlyn Scott, Shawn Cannon. 


May 10, 2024 through May 26, 2024

(Contact Venue for Exact Dates and Times)

THE CANNON THEATRE28 Andrews Parkway, Devens, MA.


For tickets visit www.thecannontheatre.org


Contact Venue for Most Updated COVID-19 Safety Protocols and Information. 

The Cannon Theatre in Devens has given us an unique but inspired look at the classic tale of "Alice in Wonderland" with the musical "ALICE BY HEART." which should touch many hearts in the process.

Be cautioned, though - this is definitely theatre avant-garde and a musical that will be unlike any other adaptation you may have seen of the classic tale. 

If you are old enough to recall Tom Petty's music video "Don't Come Around Here No More" with its bizarre "Looking Glass" theme, "ALICE BY HEART" makes that video look subdued by comparison.

Written by Steven Sater and Jessie Nelson with a score by Duncan Sheik, "ALICE BY HEART" beckons us to take a journey through "Wonderland" with fresh eyes.

As the story begins, we find ourselves in an emergency underground bunker, at the height of the Blitz during World War II in London, 1941

A young woman, Alice (Eliza Bean), sits by her ailing young friend, Alfred (Jonathan Guerra), who is dying from tuberculosis.

Both Bean and Guerra are wonderful in their moments together on stage and lead a fine cast of supporting players in this show.

These characters are not children, by the way, yet they are also barely adults but they have lost virtually everything they have ever known in their young lives. 

It should be noted that this is definitely not a story for very young children, either, as there is content here that is clearly intended for mature audiences.

As for those mature audiences, this is also something that might not appeal to everyone expecting more lighthearted, easy to follow fare, either.

Steven Sater and Jessie Nelson have conceived and written something so intricate, eccentric, dark, and far off the beaten path, it may well appeal more to Samuel Beckett fans (although there are, admittedly, moments reminiscent of Stephen Schwartz's musical take on the Book of St. Matthew, "Godspell"). 

In "ALICE BY HEART," fantasy takes a savage beating from reality (especially the realities of sickness and war) and that clearly appears to be the intent.

Those willing to accept the above will be thoroughly entertained by the well-mounted Cannon Theatre production.

(Photo: Eliza Bean as “Alice” in a scene from "ALICE BY HEART" by Steven Sater, Jessie Nelson and Duncan Sheik now playing at Cannon Theatre in Devens, MA. through May 26, 2024. Photo Credit: Shawn Cannon)

Duncan Sheik's score is perfectly in sync with the heightened Sater and Nelson story.

The score is intricate, explicit and, much like Sheik's earlier success with "Spring Awakening," the brooding libretto seems to immediately bond the cast together far more emotionally and unlike many other contemporary musicals.

The Cannon Theatre staging and choreography for "ALICE BY HEART" by director Shawn Cannon is, in a word, beautiful, perfectly aligning with the Duncan Sheik score.  

All the technical elements from scene transitions, specialty lighting and sound are well planned and executed.

Costumes are intentionally kept minimal to allow for a "representation" of the "Wonderland" characters, not a fully costumed embodiment. 

In the bunker, terminally ill Alfred is being cared for by a stern, sharp-tongued Red Cross Nurse (Madison Crory) who tries to keep Alice safely away from the contagious Alfred. 

Yet, Alice does not believe...or want to believe...that Alfred is dying. 

Desperate to escape her reality, even if only for a short while, she sings the song “West of Words," pleading with Alfred to escape with her into "yesterday" - into a world of fantasy - just as they did as children when they would together read from the Lewis Carroll book, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." 

Bean is an especially gifted vocalist and thoroughly convincing as Alice.

Alice begins to read the book but the Nurse destroys it. 

In defiance, Alice begins to recall the story verbally "by heart" and we soon find ourselves transported from the bunker and into a dark, foreboding version of "Wonderland."

(Photo: The CAST of "ALICE BY HEART" by Steven Sater, Jessie Nelson and Duncan Sheik now playing at Cannon Theatre in Devens, MA. through May 26, 2024. Photo Credit: Shawn Cannon)

The musical "ALICE BY HEART" was actually inspired by the Lewis Carroll story and was originally presented in 2012 by London's Royal National Theatre.

The musical made its Off-Broadway premiere in 2019 for a limited run.

As the plot of "ALICE BY HEART" unfolds, Alice must come to terms with her present while looking toward the unknown that is her future, as she conveys in the touching number “Winter Blooms. 

Alfred rises from his cot and turns into the "White Rabbit" as all the other "residents' of the bunker shelter transform into characters from the Carroll fabled "Wonderland" in the song "Down the Hole." 

All of the ensemble performances are exceptional, including:

Young Tabatha (Kiki Bean) transforms into a grinning "Cheshire Cat" and, among other notable songs, sings with Alice and others in the song "Those Long Eyes."

As the Cat, Tabatha entices both Alice and Alfred (now in and out of character as the "White Rabbit") into a golden waltz with lobsters. 

In the tender musical number “Those Long Eyes,” Alice and Alfred dance together, soon realizing what they feel, tragically, can never go further than this fantasy. 

Crory as the Red Cross Nurse morphs into the eccentric "Queen of Hearts" who holds Alice on trial for various absurd charges. 

Harold (Kaitlyn Scott) is a British soldier suffering from what then would have been known as "Shell Shock" but today is known as "PTSD." 

Harold becomes the "Mad Hatter" and a "Knave of Spades" to Crory's "Queen" and participates in the song, "Sick to Death of Alice-ness."

Angus (Katharine Adel) is one of two "Caterpillars" that taunt Alice over how Alice has matured and her reflected body changes using the hookah to keep Alice distracted and unengaged in the song “Chillin' The Regrets.

(Photo: Eliza Bean as “Alice” and Jonathan Guerra as “Alfred/White Rabbit,” in a scene from "ALICE BY HEART" by Steven Sater, Jessie Nelson and Duncan Sheik now playing at Cannon Theatre in Devens, MA. through May 26, 2024. Photo Credit: Shawn Cannon)

Further engaging in the body shaming of growing Alice, enter the Duchess (Erin Shine), who chastises Alice for growing up too fast. 

Shine dominates as the "Duchess" who cautions Alice that, because her body is developing, it will soon turn her into an adult, resulting in all her childhood fantasies disappearing. 

A bizarre croquet match is witnessed in the musical ensemble number, “Manage Your Flamingo. .

Alice also encounters the "Mock Turtles" (played by Micah Guerra, Erin Shine, Yeshua Guerra and Patrick Cortis), forcing Alice to face her grief and move on in the song, “Your Shell of Grief. 

A bomb explodes, "Wonderland" disappears and, as what happens throughout the story, the setting becomes less about Alice's fictional "Wonderland" and more about Alice's very real, war-torn London

The second act fills to the brim with eccentricity with the fabled "tea party" of the "Mad Hatter," along with guests the "Dormouse" (Amanda Buszkiewicz). 

We also are in the court for Alice's trial (a hilarious scene with Crory as the "Queen of Heats" and the song "Isn't It a Trial?") and an encounter with the "Jabberwock" (marvelously played by Patrick Cortis). 

Again, all of the "Wonderland" characters are portrayed by those very real persons gathered in the underground bunker with Alice.

Another reminder of when and where Alice really is comes in the form of one of the best songs in the show, “Some Things Fall Away,” a nice duet sung by Eliza Bean and Kiki Bean.

Other notable performances in "ALICE BY HEART" come from Michael Templeton as Dr. Butridge (who becomes the humorous "King of Hearts") and Eleanor Stanton as Clarissa (who becomes the "Queen of Diamonds").

(Photo: The CAST of "ALICE BY HEART" by Steven Sater, Jessie Nelson and Duncan Sheik now playing at Cannon Theatre in Devens, MA. through May 26, 2024. Photo Credit: Shawn Cannon)

No matter what Alice does, the war invades her fantasy world, seemingly intent on destroying any joy and hope she once felt from the "Wonderland" story.

Yet, while joyous days are rare for her now, even as explosions sound off all around her in the bombarded section of London, Alice must learn to face her future with a renewed sense of hope.

After clinging to her fantasy world from "yesterday," she must decide if she is not that same person that she was yesterday to push through the bleakness that is her present reality.

Even given the strength of Alice's love, her ability to forgive, her incredible imagination, she must also still learn that her future...can be miraculous.

"ALICE BY HEART" continues in Devens until May 26th, 2024 and it is strongly encouraged to catch this one before your next trip through the looking glass.

Approximately two hours, 10 minutes with one intermission.  

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)




This much anticipated musical is from the creators of “Spring Awakening.” 

Full of whimsy, gorgeous songs, inventive dances, and fun characters, this de-constructed version of "Alice in Wonderland" is sure to delight you and hit the heartstrings.   

You don't want to miss it! 

It is 1942, and a young woman named Alice Spencer uses the Lewis Carroll stories to escape the horrors of the bombings in London

During one curiously terrible evening in the bunker, her best friend Alfred is diagnosed with incurable tuberculosis and a Red Cross nurse rips apart her favorite book, "Alice In Wonderland."  

This pushes Alice over the edge, and since she has learned the stories by heart, retreats into her fantasy world, dragging the dying Alfred with her! 


THE CANNON THEATRE was founded by Shawn Cannon and Bret Bahe, who shared a dream of creating a community theater – a place for learning, and great plays, a place where people could enjoy the company of others, laugh, and just lose themselves in the joy of artistic expression. Over the years, the theater incorporated, and then became a non-profit organization, managed so that every precious cent made from each production is carefully fed right back into the creation of the next. During the Pandemic of 2020, the theater was forced to close, as their overhead was too high, They began searching for a new space during 2021, and found it in the late summer of 2021.  

THE CANNON THEATRE board, which still includes the theater’s very active and passionate founders, invites you to join us and experience this welcoming community, whether as an audience member, an actor, backstage crew, or even director. We guarantee you will leave feeling satisfied!


28 Andrews Parkway  

Devens, MA