By Kelly Burch
---- — 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 email@example.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