PROVO — “Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.” 

Show closes August 12, 2023.

This new musical, based on Marissa Meyer’s award-winning young adult novel of the same name, tells the heart wrenching backstory of one of literature’s most notorious villains: The Queen of Hearts, from the 1865 classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Though it seems that Catherine (played by Julia Green) is destined to marry the King of Hearts and become Wonderland’s next Queen, her heart yearns to follow a different path. Cath and her best friend Mary Ann (played by Isabella Cahoon) dream of opening a bakery, but that is deemed impossible. Cath is met with another impossibility when she meets Jest (played by Zackery Allred), the handsome and mysterious court joker. Despite being faced with many impossibilities, Cath is determined to create her own destiny and fall in love on her own terms. “But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.”

This new musical, cowritten by Heidi Thomas (who also serves as its director), Isabel Wilson, Ellie England, and Ivy Robbins (the production’s music director and choreographer), has an unconventional history. It began as a middle school writing project and continued to develop as this group of young artists went through high school. When they reached 11th grade, they sent the finished script to Meyer, and she encouraged them to produce the show. It first premiered in April of 2022 at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre in Davis County. After about a year of edits and reworks, it is being produced again here in Provo at the Covey Center for the Arts. Even in this new production, Heartless is still fully produced and performed by teenagers. 

I entered the theater to the sound of the live 19-piece orchestra warming up. The prospect of live music is always thrilling, and this orchestra, conducted by Robbins, did not disappoint. They played the musical’s original score beautifully, with some especially dynamic music during the entr’acte. Unfortunately, the orchestra would occasionally overpower the performers onstage, making it difficult to understand some lyrics. This was mainly an issue during solos and duets; any larger group numbers showcased a much better balance with this talented orchestra. 

The strongest element of the show was found in the relationship between Cath and Jest. Green’s vocals as Cath were strong, clear, and seemingly effortless. It was a joy to listen to her. She presented Cath’s journey from hopeful to heartbroken beautifully. Both her singing and acting were showcased particularly well in her Act 2 solo “Break.” As Jest, Allred was incredibly charming and captivating. He entered the royal court to the sound of electric guitar in the song “Impossibilities,” and he immediately exuded a magnetic intensity. Jest as a character is a charismatic performer who also comes to deeply care for Cath. And Allred delivered, balancing the energy of a boyband member with a genuine and sweet devotion. The on-stage chemistry between Green and Allred was absolutely electric. Though the script did not give Cath and Jest many interactions before they fell in love, the romance was believable due to these remarkable young actors. This was particularly strong during the song “Foolish” when the characters finally admit their feelings for one another.

The chemistry between Cath and Jest offered a wonderful contrast to the relationship between Cath and the King of Hearts. The King (played by Peter Gibbons) was an awkward and foolish character who was so obviously not right for Cath, but who was sympathetic in how ardently he tried — and failed — to win her affection. Gibbons was a fantastic comedic actor who provided wonderful comic relief and frequently drew genuine laughs.

Other notable characters that exuded the energy of Wonderland included Hatta, a variant of the Mad Hatter (played by Eleanor Boam) and the Sisters (played by Ava Madsen, Genevieve Fluckiger-Roberts, and Lydia Perry). Hatta acted as the story’s narrator as they told the story to a curious Alice (played by Kate Webb). Though Hatta’s Mad Tea Party was always on stage, it was frequently vacant. I wish there would have been more consistency regarding when Hatta was telling the story, as it felt choppy and random. Nevertheless, Boam’s Hatta was captivating and zany, presenting a wonderful contrast between when Hatta was the voice of reason and when Hatta had gone mad. Boam’s vocal prowess was showcased in “Mad Yet” a song at the very end of the show, a that song made me wish that Hatta had the opportunity to sing more often. The Sisters who lived in the Treacle Well were creatures much like the Fates of Greek mythology. They were deliciously creepy as they sang in tight, otherworldly harmonies. They effectively raised the stakes for the other characters and created a bone-chilling tension. The scenes with the Sisters were some of the strongest in the show.

The most dynamic staging in the show featured these principal characters, my favorite being the song “No Way” in which Cath and Jest separately try to convince their friends that they are not in love. This song utilized the entire space, had interesting movement, used levels, and was visually very fun to watch. I wish that this quality of staging had been more present in other scenes. Many ensemble scenes, such as the Ball and Croquet, felt stagnant and crowded. This ensemble had much more potential than what was used, as shown by their strong vocals and impressive harmonies. Additionally, the cast of Heartless included some fantastic tumblers and dancers that were featured in “Hatta’s Marvelous Millinery” that I wish would have been utilized more frequently. One ensemble stand out was the White Rabbit (played by Zaya Clinger), who did not say much, but the character’s few lines were filled with wonderful energy. 

My biggest challenge with this show was with the choppiness of the script. I was glad that I was familiar with the source material before watching the musical. Some important moments were not given enough attention, or they were hard to understand due to unbalanced music, rushing, or lack of diction. For example, I would not have understood the scene where the Turtle turns into the Mockturtle at the end of Act 1 without having previously read the book. Additionally, some references and expository knowledge, such as the dream with Jest and the lemons, seemed dependent on having a knowledge of the book. This made an enjoyable experience for a fan of the book, but I can imagine it would be confusing for someone unfamiliar with the source material. The pacing also struggled due to long scene changes, and occasional long periods of time that were completely empty, such as during Cath’s costume change in “To Be Me.”

Another wish I had for the production was the inclusion of more whimsy. There were some lovely Wonderland-ish elements sprinkled throughout the show, including the set design and dressing (created by Jax Jessop and LilyKate Jones) for the Treacle Well and pumpkin patch, the choreography in “Hatta’s Marvelous Millinery,” and the stunning Jabberwocky puppet. However, for such a fantastical setting filled with so much potential for the outlandish and magical, I wish there would have been more to fill the story with the wonder of Wonderland. 

Heartless the Musical is still a work in progress, but I sincerely hope that these brilliant young artists continue to develop it because it holds so much potential and so much heart. It was obvious how much love, time, and passion had been put into this production. With such a talented young cast and captivating story, Heartless the Musical was an enjoyable production and a real treat for fans of the book. It is not a perfect show, but I think Thomas said it best in her director’s note: “Despite its title, this show is full of heart.”

The White Rose Productions presentation of Heartless the Musical plays nightly at 7 PM and Saturdays at 2 PM through August 12 in the Main Performance Hall at the Covey Center for the Arts (425 West Center Street, Provo). Tickets are $15-25. For more information, visit