ANDERSON — A beloved children’s book and musical will come to life in Anderson next week in the Anderson Mainstage production of “Alice in Wonderland,” based on Lewis Carrol’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

And a Lapel High School junior is set to star in the title role.

Julia Beeler will take the stage as the imaginative, polite and intelligent Alice, the 7-year old girl who takes the tumble down the rabbit hole into “Wonderland.”

The musical performance will be co-directed by Sharon Zimmer and Kirby Gilliam, who says casting Beeler in the title role was a no-brainer.

“She has a really great personality,” Gilliam said of Beeler. “When you are doing a show, you have to capture the audience’s attention — we call that stage presence. She has great stage presence, she is a great singer, and if you just look at her, she looks like Alice. She has all three things going for her.”

Beeler has been performing on stage for the past several years. She said in addition to her scene-stealing performance as Patty Simcox in her school’s production of “Grease” in the spring, Alice is her favorite character to play and sees a lot of herself in Alice.

“She’s very curious,” Beeler said. “And I like to know everything and find out everything I can — so does she. And she likes to wander around and experience things.”

Gilliam praises Beeler for her devotion to the role. Gilliam said her star has stayed after rehearsals have ended on many occasions to get the part right. Beeler said it’s a role that is very important to her.

“I just want Kirby to be proud of me because she’s an important role (model) in my life,” Beeler said. “I just want everyone else to think it’s great and be proud of me for putting my best into it.”

Through Alice’s appearance in Carrol’s books and portrayals in film, most notably Disney’s 1951 animated film, she is a character with whom almost everyone is familiar. Gilliam said Beeler is making the part her own.

“She is definitely exuding Alice,” Gilliam said. “The show we’re doing is based on the book. Lewis Carrol wrote it for a little girl named Alice in his life. She was a dreamer and curious, and he gave her puzzles and all kinds of things to keep her mind working and keep engaged in that wonderland that all kids have. And Julia really does that on stage. It’s neat to see her because she has all the emotions that little kids have when they’re in their imaginations.”

Gilliam said Beeler has been tireless in her preparation to play Alice.

“She is at every rehearsal,” Gilliam said. “Her work ethic is awesome; if you ask her to be somewhere, she’s there. If you ask her to do something, she does it. She takes direction great and works really hard.”

Beeler has juggled her schedule during the weeks of rehearsal leading up to opening night. She said she has been creative in balancing her school work and play schedule.

“It’s pretty hard — there have been some late nights lately,” she said. “Rehearsals can go three hours at night, and I don’t get home until 10. I just have to do my homework after or before (rehearsals). I just try to manage my time, spread things out and do some at school when I can.”

Beeler said the hard work will be worth it. And, sounding a little like an innocent 7-year old wanting to please others, she hopes the audience members will go home happy to have seen her perform.

“I’m super excited — it’s going to be a great show,” Beeler said. “I just want them to think how great the show was and how much fun we had. I hope they realize that a lot of work went into it, but it’s worth it to make other people happy.”

“Alice in Wonderland” runs Sept. 14 to 16 and Sept. 22 to 24 at the Anderson Mainstage, 124 W. Ninth St., Anderson. More details can be found at www.mainstagetheatre.org.

(All photos courtesy of Alison Stevenson of Alison Mae Photography, alisonmaephotography.com)

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Rob Hunt covers news, sports and other happenings in South Madison County. He can be reached at rhunt@pendletontimespost.com or (765) 778-2324.