BWW Interview: Molly Gordon Goes Down the Rabbit Hole In ALICE BY HEART
MCC Theater's production of the New York premiere of Alice By Heart, the new musical from Spring Awakening creators Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater, begins previews on January 30th. The show is directed and co-written by Jessie Nelson, who penned the book for Waitress and will be the first show in the Newman Mills Theater, which is part of the new Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space. Alice By Heart stars Molly Gordon as Alice Spencer, a teenager forced to take shelter in an underground tube station during the London Blitz of World War II.
Molly Gordon recently starred in the film "Life of the Party" alongside Melissa McCarthy as well as TNT's "Animal Kingdom." She can also be seen in the upcoming films "Booksmart," directed by Olivia Wilde, and "Good Boys," produced by Seth Rogen.
Molly caught up with BroadwayWorld to discuss her experience working on Alice By Heart and what audience members can expect from the show.
Tell me a little bit about Alice By Heart and how it differs from the original story that most people know?
I think what's a little bit different about this story is that I play Alice, but I don't play the Alice in Wonderland Alice. I play Alice Spencer and this story takes place in the London Blitz of World War II. Me and my childhood friend Alfred, who Colton plays have just lost our families and our homes and we're this camp of displaced children in the London tube station. Alfred has gotten very sick with tuberculosis and I'm encouraging him that we can escape this world that we're in and our experience if we read the book that we read when we were a kid and we escape to our imaginations and go down the rabbit role. And when we were kids, he would play the white rabbit and I would play Alice. So I think what's beautiful about this story is that we get to see that when you read a book as a child, you kind of take on the lead characters and make them your own and you kind of live your own life through the storybook.
So the actual book of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland exists in the world of Alice by Heart as opposed to it being an adaption of the book itself?
Exactly. We read the book as children and it was very important to both of us. And I'm basically saying, we can use this to escape our circumstances and I think that's such a beautiful message for life. And especially right now, when arts funding and everything is being taken away, literature and movies and art and music is so important for kids to be able to escape when they're having a bad day or things aren't going their way or life is hard in a certain way. I just think it's very important.
You were a part of the workshop at Vassar last summer, right? How have you seen the show change and develop since then?
I've actually been with the show for a while now so it's been beautiful to see how it has transitioned and changed. I think it's been beautiful to see how also the time that we're in right now in the world has filtered into the story a little bit. Two new songs were written at Vassar so that was beautiful to see and it's just been beautiful to see how the piece how changed and become tighter and more Wonderland-y crazy and it's been really beautiful to be a part of that.
It is absolutely wonderful. I feel very lucky to have grown up with such a smart, kind, incredible woman and director as my role model going through life. So, I feel lucky I get to work with her as my mom but also that I get to work with her as a director because I've always wanted to just have the work ethic that she has. It's been really, really, really wonderful. I think she sets such a professional environment as though I was another actor, but it also - because I've known Steven and Duncan for so long - it kind of feels like family and everybody feels like family. So, it's so beautiful where it feels like 'oh, it's just another job,' but it also feels like this beautiful family that we have. But I think what's wonderful is that we can kind of look at each other with just a little eye movement and I know what she wants from me so we don't have to have a whole conversation about it.
You've been in an incredible number of films and TV shows in just the last few years. Is this project your professional/New York live theatre debut?
When I first moved to New York, I was in the chorus of Sweeney Todd at Lincoln Center, but other than that I have not done anything. I grew up doing musical theatre in LA at this sort of children's theatre/community that was kind of my escape from school and such a big part of my life and then when I started doing this professionally, I just ended up getting more work in film, which has been so wonderful. So, this is such a beautiful escape to being a kid again because I haven't done it in a while. And it's just so incredibly different. So yeah, this definitely feels like a first, kind of, new thing, but it also feels like coming home.
So, for you, this experience kind of mirrors the plot of the show a little bit.
Is live theatre something you see yourself wanting to do more of in the future?
Yes, I would love to be able to do more. I think that TV, film, and theatre feed each other in such a beautiful way. What I've really been taken by is the sense of community and 'we're all in this together' and that sort of camp mentality of theatre, whereas film is a sense of community and you become a family but you do kind of go to your trailer and you end up having a lot more time alone to work through things. And that's a beautiful way to work too, but I think that they kind of feed each other to have both of those experiences.
Do you see yourself gravitating more towards musicals or straight plays in the future?
I would love to sing more. This rehearsal process has brought me a lot of joy to remember how much I enjoy singing. And I'm definitely so amazed with the instruments of other people and how they keep themselves healthy and everything. I'm very lucky that the children's theater in Los Angeles that I grew up with was me and Ben Platt and Kathryn Gallagher and Beanie Feldstein. I grew up with all these people so I get to ask them what they do and how they stayed healthy and all those things. I'm very lucky that I got to watch my friends do it so I get to learn from them.
When the madness of the world is too much to bear, we take refuge in the stories we love. Tony and Grammy award-winning creators of Spring Awakening, Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, reunite for their new musical Alice By Heart, inspired by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and directed and co-written by Jessie Nelson (Waitress). In the rubble of the London Blitz of World War II, Alice Spencer's budding teen life is turned upside down, and she and her dear friend Alfred are forced to take shelter in an underground tube station. When the ailing Alfred is quarantined, Alice encourages him to escape with her into their cherished book and journey down the rabbit hole to Wonderland. As they travel through the tale, Alice By Heart explores the poignancy of first love, coming to terms with loss, and finding the courage to move forward. This world premiere musical encourages us all to celebrate the transformational power of the imagination, even in the harshest of times.
Alice By Heart begins performances on Wednesday, January 30, 2019 as the first show in the Newman Mills Theater at The Robert W. Wilson MCC TheaterSpace (511 West 52nd Street), with an official opening night set for Tuesday, February 26, 2019.