Saturday, February 6, 2010
BroadwayGirl's Adventure in Wonderland
I've just returned from Wonderland!!
I spent last night falling in love with a White Knight, dancing with a smooth and smiling Gato, taking advice from a Caterpillar, facing down an angry Jabberwock, and finally finding my way home.
Ahhhh you guys. I’ve wanted to see Wonderland: The Musical since I first heard that it was being created. The story of Alice was one of the first literary works that really fascinated me as a child, and being as obsessed as I am with musical theatre, I had to see what it would become on the stage.
Of course I was nervous; a butchering of my favorite tale had the potential to ruin it for me forever. But I just couldn’t know it was out there, and not give it a chance.
I should say that I was very much relieved to find out that Wonderland: The Musical is in fact a NEW story about a NEW Alice – this one a red-headed adult, not a small blonde child. Rather than simply adding songs to a story we all know, book writers Jack Murphy and Gregory Boyd (who also directs) have created an entirely new adventure for a complex, adult woman. She encounters characters we know from the children’s story, but unlike Shrek or Beauty & The Beast, this show allows us to meet their new incarnations for the first time. True to Lewis Carroll’s vision, everything might be familiar, but then again everything is strange and new.
In this version of Wonderland, Alice – played by In the Heights’Janet Dacal – is an accomplished but over-extended working mom, teetering on the brink of alienation by her husband (Darren Ritchie) and their daughter Chloe (Julie Brooks). When Chloe runs away from home, Alice follows her down the big-city version of “the rabbit hole” – an immeasurably deep elevator shaft originating in their high-rise apartment building. Upon landing, Alice embarks on a quest to find Chloe – who is, unbeknownst to her mother, a regular visitor to Wonderland.
After maneuvering her way through a sea of Chloe look-alikes, Alice is granted an audience with the Caterpillar (Tommar Wilson of HAIR). He presents her with a riddle, which, when solved, permits her entrance into the next door along her journey.
There are eight doors in total. Behind each door resides a resident of Wonderland (who, in a nod to “The Wizard of Oz,” resembles a character from Alice’s above-ground life), each providing a riddle to help Alice in the mission to find her daughter. El Gato (the Cheshire Cat), the White Knight, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts – they’re all here. And, each in his or her own melodious style, they present their riddles and clues through song.
Wonderland: The Musical overflows with singable tracks. Frank Wildhorn pulls out all the stops – using Latin, Pop, R&B, Rock and Big Band music to create a versatile yet seamless score.
My favorite tunes are “Worst Day of My Life” (Janet Dacal’s opening number); “One Knight” (sung boy-band style, complete with choreography borrowed from the Backstreet Boys); “The Mad Hatter,” Nikki Snelson’s introduction as the scheming, power-hungry Queen-of-Hearts sidekick; and “Misunderstood,” the woeful tale of Tad Wilson’s carnivorous, isolated Jabberwock. (These songs, and twelve others, can be heard on the Wonderland Concept Recording, available at www.wonderlandthemusical.org.)
The design of the production is top-notch. From bright, imaginative set-pieces to a complex use of projected images – not to mention exciting, colorful costumes (my favorites are the Queen of Hearts’ over-the-top gown and the multi-legged zoot-suit worn by the Caterpillar) – the visuals alone are enough to keep me in the world of the play. But it’s the music and the cast that make me want to go back and see this show again.
Wonderland is the perfect antidote to the Disney musical. Young audience members will love the bold colors and the sight gags (watch as Alice rewinds time and the actors move and speak backwards!) but it won’t feel like “kids theatre” to their parents. On the contrary, Jack Murphy’s lyrical wordplay is sophisticated, and there are enough “adult themes” (i.e. divorce) to ground this fantasy story in a reality we can recognize.
Listen, I’m not saying that Wonderland is the most perfect show I’ve ever seen. The storyline is wobbly in parts (is the appearance of author Lewis Carroll really necessary?), and I hear that the creatives are still experimenting with the order of the songs. It’s not particularly edgy or dangerous. But I do believe that the show has the chops to make it in New York. The songs are catchy, the cast is strong and the visuals are impressive. Broadway needs a show like this.
Wonderland: The Musical runs at the Alley Theatre in Houston through February 14.
After that… its future remains unknown.