Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

The Show Must Go On – Reflections on Alice the Musical by Mari Hazel

The lights go up, and the curtain opens.  The White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter are discussing the usual troubles in Wonderland.  As the Mad Hatter gathers all the wonderland creatures with a loud ”Hear ye! Hear ye, Wonderland friends!,” the 9 other cast members come out as various characters to sing the opening number.  The kids are nervous, but they are mainly excited to be on a stage in costume and performing something they’ve work so hard on for the last 5 months.  As I directed the chorus from behind the stage right curtain, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “How did we get here?”

Since last Saturday, I’ve been reflecting on both the performance and the process.  We held auditions on September 12 and we had our first musical rehearsal September 26.  We all crammed into the first piano room at Freeway Music Downtown Columbia and began rehearsing music from a musical score that no one in the cast had ever heard before, including the directors.  “Alice” is an original, published score and the only recordings available are of the composer’s rehearsal backtracks.  You can’t find videos of the production on YouTube. So, what do you do when you need to learn an entire hour and a half musical with harmony? You learn it note by note and chord by chord.

Karyn Minor and I jumped into the music feet first, beginning with the final chorus number.  Most of the kinds wondered what they had gotten themselves into.  The music on the page looked like a foreign language.  Forget holding down the alto line when the girl sitting to your right is singing soprano and the boy sitting to your left is singing tenor.  By the end of the rehearsal, I was so tickled to see how excited they were when those chords locked in.  The kids were beginning to understand what it means to sing in harmony with other people.  They were beginning to understand how those little black dots on the page can turn into an amazing musical experience.

A few months later, after all music and lines were memorized, Shannon Dolinar and I moved into the staging and acting process of the rehearsals.  The cast became responsible for knowing when to come on stage and where to stand.  Not all lines are remembered in the moment and not all entrances are made.  They had to learn how to keep going while maintaining the character that they were supposed to portray.  It was in these rehearsals where they learned how to exaggerate gestures and how to make lines sound like a natural conversation.  They learned how to be their most authentic selves and to not be apologetic for being “too much,” since that is the only way the audience can read you!

It’s in this part of the process that you begin to see the growing bond of the people involved.  Nothing brings strangers together more than creating a shared musical experience and being in a place where sharing a magnified version of yourself is 100% acceptable.  Watching the cast laugh and make music together made me think of my own group of girls with whom I grew up singing in harmony.  Music is never more beautiful than when you are singing with your friends.  At the final dress rehearsal, we all went around and said what our favorite part of the process was.  I was touched that so many responses were my favorite part as well.  Some of the responses were, “Making new friends with people from my school,” “Getting to learn how to sing in harmony,” but the greatest response was, “All of it!”

I guess what I’m the most proud of is not only how much each cast member grew musically, but also how they made friends with each other.  Putting on a musical production is a labor of love for all people involved.  I taught lessons to a few of the cast members this weekend and they all have said, “I felt like I was forgetting something because I didn’t need to bring my “Alice” book.”  Your character becomes a part of you and in one night of performing, it’s over. The same goes for the role of the director.  6 months of  planning, volunteered time, practice, rehearsal, and heart goes into one evening for the children.  I know there will be many more musical opportunities at Freeway in the future, but this first one will always be the most special.  I am so grateful for the gift given to me by the parents and cast members.  The framed flyer for “Alice,” signed by each member of the cast, now sits above my piano at home as a constant reminder that a labor of love for music is always the most rewarding.

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