As I said earlier, it’s a new season on Broadway, which means lots of new openings. We recently went to see a preview of the musical, Wonderland. Now I should state right up front that I’m an unabashed Alice fan. I fell in love with Alice in Wonderland as a kid, and then even more so with Alice Through the Looking Glass when I was a bit older. And I’ve never stopped loving the wildly nonsensical world of Lewis Carroll.
I adored Tim Burton’s vision of Alice. The casting, the story, the special effects, all of it lived up to my vision of the book. Carroll would have been honored. So it was with much excitement that I sat down to see Wonderland, book by Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy and music and lyrics by Jack Murphy and Frank Wildhorn.
The opening montage, the original drawings coming to life against a scrim were fabulous. And roving quotes from the book made it all that much more alluring. Equally provocative was the overture. The audience tittered (and probably twittered) and quieted. The curtain pulled back to reveal, not a rabbit hole, but a New York Apartment.
The story, a modern day version of Alice’s descent into Wonderland complete with a faulty elevator, is simple. Alice (Janet Dacal), a newly separated single mother, has just moved to a new apartment. The stress of everything has left her exhausted and as she falls into a restless sleep, a white rabbit appears, and well, except for the elevator, you know this part of the story.
The bright colors and brilliant set pieces for Wonderland set the tone for a rousing first half where we meet many of our favorite characters, some of them old friends and some slightly reimagined. The rabbit, although earless, is priceless as he rushes around avoiding the words “I’m late, I’m late”. (Disney copyright, don’t you know). And E. Clayton Cornelius is wonderful as the Caterpillar. As is Jose llana as El Gato (a slightly altered version of the Cheshire Cat).
But the real star is costume designer Susan Hilferty (Wicked, Spring Awakening). From the caterpillars back loaded pants and side-kick legs, to the Queen of Hearts fabulous dresses, the costumes steal the show. And I found myself looking forward to the introduction of new characters, or new scenes with new outfits. The March Hare’s dreadlocks, and the Mad-Hatter (again cleverly reimagined)with her bustier and boots were equally outstanding.
Even the introduction of Jack, the White Knight, was cleverly done with a “boy-band” accompaniment to the song One Knight. The first act was full of the whimsy one expects of Wonderland. And also true to the story somewhat short on plot. Still, the music, costumes and sets carried the act, and made it truly enjoyable.
The second act, unfortunately, never found the same beat. Without the turning point break-out song, like Wicked’s Defying Gravity, the audience was left waiting for the missing beat. And the show never really found its footing again. The tone was uneven and while the music was still good, the important moments often inexplicably happened off stage, leaving other characters to fill in the blanks for the audience.
Overall, I hope the production gets a much needed tweaking. I think the potential for magic is there. The story, though slight, is compelling. The actors, particularly Janet Dacal (Alice) and Kate Shindle (The Mad-Hatter)– with hat’s off to Karen Mason as the Queen of Hearts–were wonderful. And as I mentioned the music was delightful. The sets and costumes were worthy of Carroll and his world (as was a brief cameo by the man himself). But I was still left wanting more.
How about you? How do you feel about Alice and Wonderland?