Alice producer Tom Dunn has been working with internationally renowned musician and Hillsboro resident Steve Schuch on a project for a production in Henniker since last fall. One night while they were collaborating they ended up discussing English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, more commonly known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll.
It was a great conversation but one Dunn didn’t think twice about until the following night when he attended a board meeting for the Hillcat Summer Theatre and the board announced they wanted to do Alice in Wonderland for their summer production — but they were tired of the dozen or so kiddie versions and wanted to try something new.
Dunn, remembering Schuch’s interest in the books, thought he might be willing to help out. Schuch, whose credits include PBS soundtracks, a Grammy nomination, composer awards, five fiddling championships and a New Hampshire Lifetime Artist Fellowship Award, was up to the challenge.
“Steve travels all over the world and has done a few things on commission but nothing to this scale,” Dunn said. “To think it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t stayed an extra half hour talking.”
Dunn knew he couldn’t write the script and also direct the musical, but he had the perfect person in mind. During the school year, Heidi Doyle is the children’s librarian and is an expert on all subjects Alice. Dunn said if she hadn’t been available as director they would have put the production off for another year. But she was and she wanted to use parts of both Alice in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass. It became Dunn’s job to take these two books and put them into a two-hour show.
“By January I had a draft and then got to spend a wonderful month listening to Steve’s recordings,” Dunn said.
Save for rewrites, the project was finished by mid-June and rehearsals began. Many actors are familiar with the play but the musical is a white rabbit of a different color. That is why early on Dunn and Schuch invited performers from past productions in to listen to the music and read through the show. They were able to give feedback. This also created an environment of open communication where every actor, no matter how young, felt comfortable asking questions.
“Even our six-year-olds whose role might be a flower stop me and say, ‘Mr. Dunn, why does Humpty Dumpty fall on me?’”
Both Dunn and Schuch were pleased with the members of the Hillcat Summer Theatre. The actors range from six to retirement and in total 68 people are involved with the production.
“I have written a few plays that have been produced by professionals so I was a little nervous to see what a community theater group would do,” Dunn said. “But I couldn’t be more pleased. They took risks and tried things. We’re really excited about the choices we’ve made.”
Dunn said he took some artistic liberties and he hoped the purists wouldn’t mind. All of the beloved characters, like the White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter, are still there, however, and Dunn even connected a few character arcs. The production is about two-thirds music and one-third dialogue, according to Dunn, and there are 17 original songs by Schuch.
“We’ve really been stressing this is a much more family-friendly version than Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland,” Dunn said. “But it is certainly not only for children either.”