Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

November 7, 2013

A youthful spin for 'Alice in Wonderland'

AYS peers through looking glass for theater debut

By Kelly Burch
Staff Writer

---- — Here’s one theater opening Andover audiences won’t want to be late for.

Andover Youth Services, which recently took over the fledgling local performance group, TheatreWorks, is staging the junior version of the whimsical Disney classic “Alice in Wonderland.”

The play, which features young cast members from every elementary and middle school in Andover, invites audiences to jump down the rabbit hole and join Alice, the Mad Hatter and the rest of the crew on their magical adventures.

It comes to World War I Memorial Auditorium next to Doherty Middle School, 50 Bartlet St., Andover, for three performances this weekend.

“This show is particularly fun with the bright colors, familiar music and unique costumes and characters,” says local mother Kim Sousa, of Andover, whose daughter, Farrah, is in the show.

“Alice” is the first production since Andover Youth Services assumed the reigns of TheatreWorks, which was started by three local women who were veterans of Merrimack Valley Jr. Theater.

AYS Director Bill Fahey recruited Amy Wilkins Blanchette of Andover, who is well know in the local theater community, to direct the show.

Blanchette, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in musical theater from Elon University in North Carolina, is a proud alumna of Merrimack Valley Jr. Theater. She says that she is flattered she was tapped for the job.

“I’m so happy to be able to give back to the community that gave so much to me,” Blanchette says in a release.

Blanchette, who was last seen on stage herself in this fall’s ACT Theater Company production of “Les Miserables” at the Collins Center in Andover, says she finds herself channeling MJT Artistic Director Josie Walker during rehearsals.

“I constantly hear the legendary Mrs. Walker in my head when I work with the kids, but I really wish I could whistle like her when getting the kids’ attention,” says Blanchette, whose daughter, Madelyn, is in the cast.

While Blanchette is directing and choreographing the show, she reached out to Andover High School senior Carter Letsky to do music direction.

“Carter is very talented,” Blanchette says. “He’s an amazing piano player and stage performer himself .... He has really risen to the occasion and the kids love him.”

Of course, the kids are also fans of their director, says Sousa, who calls Blanchette “a true professional.”

“She is kind, patient with the kids and shifts gears into `Alice’ as if nothing else is going on in her life,” Sousa says. “The kids love her and you can just tell that she has the experience to make this group a phenomenal success.”

In addition to the 28-member cast, all but two of whom hail from Andover, Blanchette, in true Andover Youth Services fashion, has also tapped local students as crew members and volunteers to assist with lighting, sets and costumes. The result is a full-fledged theater experience for everyone involved.

“It’s a special show since we are really incorporating students from start to finish with not only performing, but the music pit and lighting. One cast member is even sewing and hemming costumes,” Sousa says. “Everyone should come see what a great job these kids have done.”

IF YOU GO

What: “Alice In Wonderland Jr.” presented by Andover Youth Services TheatreWorks

When: Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8 and 9, 7 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 10, 2 p.m.

Where: World War I Memorial Auditorium next to Doherty Middle School, 50 Bartlet St., Andover

How: Tickets $10; available in advance in Andover at Learning Express, 32 Park St., or Andover Youth Service, 37 Pearson St.; or by emailing Kim Sousa at ksousa@rdkengineers.com.

A very `Mad’ cast

Cheshire Cat 1: Max Tweedale

Cheshire Cat 2: Farrah Sousa

Cheshire Cat 3: Sadie Rooney

Mathilda: Alyson Hall

Alice: Christabel Preller

Tall Alice: Jenna Shorey

Small Alice: Alma Marresse

White Rabbit: Cole MacKinnon

Doorknob: Madison Quill

Dodo Bird: Isaac Brickman

Tweedle Dum: Lauren Kole

Tweedle Dee: Julia Kole

Violet: Jillian Alden

Rose: Kaylee Ryan

Petunia: Celia Schwartz

Lily: Madelyn Blanchette

Daisy: Shayla Quill

Caterpillar 1: Gianna Coppola

Caterpillar 2: Zoe Saum

Mad Hatter: Lauren Jeffery

March Hare: Tula Sifling

Dormouse: Alex Worthley

Queen of Hearts: Maddy Wagner

King of Hearts: Haywood Schwartz

Royal Cardsman (Ace of Spades): Molly Sifling

Slap Jack of Hearts: Kamillye Contretas

2 of Clubs: Autumn King

3 of Diamonds: Abigail Mitchell