EXCLUSIVE: Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik Workshopping New "Alice" Musical at London's National Theatre

By Adam Hetrick
24 May 2011

Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater
Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Tony Award-winning Spring Awakening authors Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik are taking a page from Lewis Carroll. Their new musical Alice By Heart, inspired by the classic "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," is currently being workshopped at London's National Theatre.

The National Theatre's Connections program, which develops plays for youth theatres across the U.K., commissioned the piece. Sater (book/lyrics) and Sheik (music) have framed the classic in a new historical context that will add a heightened sense of urgency and danger.

"It's about how to leave childhood behind and the challenge and struggle in that," Sater told Playbill.com. Though it will include a young girl named Alice, the Spring Awakening writers are exploring themes of grief and loss in the piece, which will employ ensemble storytelling.

Director-screenwriter Jessie Nelson ("I Am Sam," "Corrina, Corrina") has been aiding in the development of Alice By Heart and is directing the current two-week London workshop that features young performers cast through Youth Music Theatre U.K. American musician Lance Horne (Prometheus Bound) is the musical director.



Despite the youth-theatre launch of Alice By Heart in the U.K., the collaborators are also anticipating a wider commercial for the work. Earlier workshops of the material in Los Angeles were cast with teenagers. 

Sater and Sheik plan to have the script and score completed by July, prior to an upcoming November workshop presentation at the National, which will be attended by artistic directors of about 30 youth theatres from around the U.K.

Each of those theatres will then get the first chance to stage Alice By Heart, with productions beginning to roll out in February 2012. Representatives from the National will attend the various U.K. productions, one of which will be selected to play a handful of performances at the National in summer 2012.

Sater envisioned the productions as being "done simply and in a very spare way." A cast of 12 is being used for the current London workshop, but Sater says that it is possible for the show to accommodate more actors, depending on each theatre's wishes.

Alice By Heart will be presented in a 60-minute version by the youth companies, though Sater and Sheik's ultimate target is closer to a 90-minute intermissionless piece. The goal is a commercial, professional production in London or New York following the 2012 youth-theatre engagement at the National.

Sater and Sheik penned the groundbreaking musical Spring Awakening, which won eight 2007 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book (Sater) and Best Score (Sheik/Sater). It also took the Olivier Award for Best New Musical following its London debut. Their upcoming projects together include The Nightingale, which will be presented New York Stage and Film and Vassar College's 2011 Powerhouse Theater season in July.