Brewster Cast and Crew Present “Alice by Heart”

Brewster Cast and Crew Present “Alice by Heart”
Suzanne Morrissey

On February 22, the curtain opened on Brewster’s winter musical, Alice by Heart, an emotional musical inspired by the classic children’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Hannah Ruegg ’26 and Liam Fahey ’24 inhabit the lead roles of Alice and Alfred.

“This play is the telling of Alice in Wonderland, but takes place in a subway tunnel-turned-bomb shelter during the Blitz in WWII,” said Arts Department Chair Liz Baker McClain. In the rubble of war, teenager Alice Spencer is forced to take shelter with her friend Alfred. Alfred is quarantined for tuberculosis, and Alice attempts to give him solace and escape into her cherished storybook. As the pair travels through Wonderland, Alice by Heart explores the poignancy of first love, loss, and courage. 

The second and final performance is a matinee on Saturday, February 24 at 11 a.m. in Anderson Hall for students, faculty, friends, staff, and family. It is also available on Brewster’s livestream channel here.

Ms. Baker McClain explained that while the show’s first run on Broadway was not a huge success, it was a darling of the critics, having been written by notable Tony- and Grammy-award winners Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik (Spring Awakening) and Jessie Nelson (Waitress). Now, the show may be returning to Broadway, so the window of opportunity to get the rights for a production here at Brewster was narrow. “We were lucky to get the rights,” she said, adding that Brewster’s theater students selected the show, partly because of its contemporary pop sensibility. “It is pop oriented, but with a very hard edge. More Phoebe Bridgers,” Ms. Baker McClain explained. The casting works well for this year’s performers, too. “We are privileged to have multiple male voices this season, which is an interesting opportunity in high school productions.”

With just a script and no music, the department hired a musician to custom produce and record all the songs. The score has unusual time signatures with a contemporary rock feel, and the cast has bonded with the music. 

“My favorite song in the show is ‘Sick to Death of Aliceness’ because of how animated the actors in the song are. I also love how the actors portray very complex emotions—not to mention the tune of the song is so captivating,” shared Noah Jacobs ’25, who plays Dodgy and Duchess. “Sick to Death of Aliceness” (or STDOA in the performers’ parlance), is a favorite of Beck Rosenbaum ’26, too.

“STDOA is fun and sounds great,” they said, adding that “I’ve Shrunk Enough” is also at the top of their list because of its strong message, with lyrics that include, “And I’m gonna speak what you won’t speak. How you fear the strong and mock the weak. I’m not turning any other cheek.”

“Isn’t It a Trial” holds special meaning for Alex Hassan ’25, a Brewster Madrid student who auditioned with the song over Zoom and then arrived in Wolfeboro just in time for the first rehearsal. A week before the show, Alex (who plays Nigel and Dormouse) shared, “I have a solo and a riff that I am going to perfect—I always enjoy when I am in that scene.” 

As the director, Ms. Baker McClain is grateful for the show’s strong voices. Freshman Lily Finklea ’27, who plays the Tabatha and the Cheshire Cat, for example, “showed up and just destroyed her audition, so we ended up with additional voices we didn’t think we’d have.” 

Because the show takes place in a subway tunnel, the set design team found items—many of them Army surplus and Goodwill stores—that could transform into the fantastical world of Wonderland as the characters’ imaginations in a time of strife unfold. Theater cubes, for example, carry vintage branding from the 1940s, then spin around to reveal Wonderland's iconic playing cards. The set is busy, with the show’s 11 performers all being on stage most of the time.

As with most theater productions, the on-stage experience is bolstered by the hard creative work of the team behind the curtain. Colin Dean ’26 is the production’s stage manager and “an absolute hero and unfailingly positive right hand man,” according to Ms. Baker McClain. The backstage crew has the herculean task of overseeing the movement of props and quick changes, while Vocal Coach Michelle Lowes has been helping the performers perfect their sound and Kyle Williams has been a stalwart tech director. “Without him there would be no theater shows at Brewster,” Ms. Baker McClain said. “We’d be completely dead in the water without him.”

Every artistic endeavor enhances learning, so we asked cast and crew members what they have learned as an actor, singer, set designer, or tech that they didn't know before starting “Alice by Heart.” Alex said, “Basically, all the basics since I didn’t have a background in acting…I haven’t  acted since I was 12, and being with professional actors and vocal coaches has made me really happy to grow and improve in all of my aspects as an actress, since I plan to major in acting.”

“I have learned that it is important to do everything with meaning,” Noah shared. “Even if you are just walking across the stage or standing in the background, you are always in character.”

“I’ve learned how to run sound, make a set, and make a prop table,” Beck said, noting that they are lucky to not suffer from opening-night jitters. We hope everyone on “Alice by Heart” has the same confidence!

Hannah Ruegg ’26: Alice Spencer/Alice
Liam Fahey ’24: Alfred Hallam/White Rabbit/March Hare
Evelyn Hafner ’26: Red Cross Nurse/Queen of Hearts
Logan Cliche ’25: Dr. Butridge/King of Hearts/Jabberwocky
John Northrop ’24: Caterpillar 1/Harold Pudding/Mad Hatter
Lily Finklea ’27: Tabatha/Cheshire Cat
Noah Jacobs ’25: Dodgy/Duchess
Caitlin Cliche ’26: Clarissa/Queen of Diamonds (Thursday)
Alex Hassan ’25: Nigel/Dormouse
Crystal Silfanus ’24: Angus/Knave of Spade
Julia Koumrian ’24: Caterpillar 2/Clarissa/Queen of Diamonds (Saturday)

Director: Liz Baker McClain
Technical Director: Kyle Williams
Music Director: Michelle Lowes
Scenic Design and Construction: Steve Burgess
Stage Manager: Colin Dean ’26
Assistant Stage Manager and Sound: Beck Rosenbaum ’26
Costumes: Megan Karas, Reika Ueno ’26, NingNice Pharita Yayod ’24


See a photos of the performance here.