Alley Theatre's Artistic Director Gregory Boyd Goes Down the Rabbit Hole With Alice

Categories: Stage

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Photos courtesy of the Alley Theatre
Nikki Snelson plays the Mad Hatter
Alice is a children's book writer who's estranged from her husband and not doing well at all with her daughter. Worst of all, to Hair Balls's way of thinking, she has writer's block.

So she goes to the strange and crazy place called Wonderland, dancing and singing her heart out along the way, to give Houston the world premiere of a musical theater take on a modern variation of the Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass legend.

Alley Theatre Artistic Director Gregory Boyd wrote the book along with lyricist and co-book writer Jack Murphy and they teamed up with Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde) who did the music to put together the show that begins previews January 15, opens on January 20 and runs through February 14 at the Alley.

And as Boyd made clear in an e-mail exchange with Hair Balls, you may want to come more than once since the show which had an earlier run in Tampa, continues to change on a daily basis.

It's not often that you get to see experimental theater that is still experimenting and not at a level of your high school improv group. These are actors who've performed lead roles on Broadway and been on national tour. All are hoping, of course, to find the perfect combination of talent, songs and story that would lead them on to Broadway and beyond that to international performances. And to avoid bad reviews, although Wildhorn has certainly overcome those before - Jekyll & Hyde wasn't beloved by critics, but went on to score international success. And three of the Broadway shows Wildhorn has written the music for (Jekyll, The Scarlet Pimpernal and The Civil War) took in eight Tony nominations.

Wildhorn, who wrote pop rock music for Wonderland, and Murphy were too deep in rehearsals to answer questions, but Boyd, put in some extra time to answer questions for Hair Balls about how a new show is put together.

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Tommar Wilson as the Caterpillar and Janet Dacal as Alice
Hair Balls: What made you think of doing a take, albeit one step removed, from the Alice in Wonderland story? Why do a story based on a well-known story, rather than creating something out of whole cloth? Is there an advantage to an audience coming in with at least some sense of context (namely that things are going to get pretty crazy)?

Boyd: We had all been interested in the Lewis Carroll original for some time, and talked of an "Alice" for the stage (there have, of course, been many many versions) as long ago as 1998. At that time our Alice was a young New York woman and Lewis Carroll not much more than a touchstone. The project became interesting again to me eighteen months ago when Frank and Jack played me five songs they had written, and we all saw that a very good pop score was possible and I found an approach to the visual that we thought fun - and that's when we started again to work on it together.

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Edward Staudenmayer as the White Rabbit

HB: Two of you were brought in to the project after Phoebe Hwang was dropped. What made you willing to take this on? And is it easier/harder to sort through something someone else has started?

Boyd: Phoebe wrote an early draft that was fun and clever but the producers were interested in a different take and Phoebe herself had other projects at the same time, so Jack and I took over and the book changed into something very much transformed, and is still changing. As the wise man said: "musicals are not written, they are rewritten." But in all events, Jack was always involved as a writer on the project and I was always the director - so our collaboration began at the beginning - as Lewis Carroll might say.



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