Cambridge musical blends fact, fiction and ‘Alice in Wonderland’ to ‘shed light on disability’

When it comes to ambition, Piper and Lori Distel aren’t the type to stand their ground.

With “Curiouser” – an original bio-musical that mixes British author Lewis Carroll’s early life with characters from his beloved 1865 novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” – the creative engines behind Cambridge’s Penny & Pound Theater Productions make a powerful statement about neurodivergence, autism and acceptance of others.

“The inspiration for writing ‘Curiouser’ was my own diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome,” says Piper, 21, who was diagnosed as an adult and linked to Lewis’ story about a young girl who falls into a rabbit hole in an often crude fantasy world. anthropomorphic creatures.

“I’ve spent my whole life feeling out of place. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t like the others.

“When I got this diagnosis, I was reading about famous people who have autism, and Lewis Carroll was on the list. And I realized what an amazing ‘Alice in Wonderland’ allegory for being neurodivergent in. a neurotypical world.

“I really wanted to highlight a disability that is not often talked about in the artistic community.

Although there is no official record of Carroll’s autism, such diagnoses were virtually non-existent in his day – and rare before the mid-20th century – prompting modern speculation about historical figures who may have could appear on the spectrum.

“There aren’t a lot of plays or musicals about autism,” Piper points out. “And the ones that do exist are written by neurotypical people who think they understand what it’s like to be autistic.”

That’s why it’s important to note that two of the lead performers on “Curiouser,” Benjamin Pickles and Arthur G. Brook, have autism.

“As an autistic playwright, I think it’s time for autistic voices to come forward and shine a light on this man who did such an amazing thing and created such an iconic story that people still love to this day.” , insists Piper.

“It’s the kind of story I would have liked to have had as a child: it’s good to be different, to be curious. You can do wonderful things with your unique personality.

A fan of writing and eager to spread a positive message about autism, she recruited her mother for her musical talents.

“It started like, ‘Hey mom, can you write some lyrics for me?’ recalls Lori, who co-founded Penny & Pound in 2015 as a nonprofit for young adults.

“And I said, ‘I can’t write lyrics without music.’ And she said, “The piano is over there,” and by the end of the first night, I had written the first five songs for that show. There was no looking back.

Opened to rave reviews in December, the play was so successful that they decided to bring it back for its current encore performances, with tentative plans to shoot it in other locations in the future.

The key to her success, Lori points out, goes beyond autism.

“This show is not just for neurodivergent people,” says the longtime theater educator who has worked for the City of Cambridge.

“It is for anyone who has never felt out of place in any situation. You don’t have to be autistic or neurodivergent to enjoy this show or to take away anything special or important. This is for anyone who has ever felt like a square peg.

Staged with the backing of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and Kitchener’s The Dance Centre, ‘Curiouser’ fulfills Penny & Pound’s mandate for large-scale, professional-quality, youth-only productions steeped in inclusivity.

“It’s the biggest company my mom and I have ever written,” says Piper, who teaches acting at Penny & Pound and plans to attend teachers’ college.

“It was the writing project that fascinated me the most.

“We want to do for Lewis Carroll what ‘Finding Neverland’ – the Johnny Depp movie, and later the musical – did for (“Peter Pan”) author JM Barrie – to show what happened in writing these iconic stories.

“We were supposed to do ‘Sweeney Todd’,” laughs Lori, who dismissed Tony’s winning musical about a murderous barber as “too dark.”

“But with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, people need something to give them hope.”

“Curiouser: A New Musical About the Spirit Behind Wonderland”

From July 7 to 10, six shows, various times, with a sensory performance on July 9.

Cambridge Arts Theatre, 47 Water St. S., Cambridge.

Tickets: $20 to $35 at www.pennyandpoundtheatre.com/tickets-curiouser

For more details visit www.pennyandpoundtheatre.com/curiouser-a-new-musical-encore