Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland isn’t known for its plot; in fact, it’s essentially a succession of wonderfully fanciful sketches which happen to share some characters. Any theatrical adaptation must either attempt to embrace this episodic structure—as seen in the recent adaptation by Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre Company—or impose a new narrative on top of the main concepts. 2011 new musical Wonderland: A New Alice clearly opted for the latter, with the show by Jack Murphy (lyrics and book), Gregory Boyd (book) and Frank Wildhorn (music) now given a British makeover by Robert Hudson for this debut European tour.

This is a bold, colourful production, bursting with an energetic, sharply-focused cast

Alice is 40, divorced, and newly unemployed; she’s oblivious to the attentions of her forlorn neighbour Jack, and instead waits for her manipulative ex-husband to come back and save her. Wanting to give up the real world, she instead discovers Wonderland—not out of boredom or curiosity, but to rescue her young teenage daughter Ellie, who has unfortunately followed a judiciously mannered White Rabbit down the liftshaft.

Sadly, though, this potentially powerful maternal motivation is almost immediately squandered by an immediate reunion with Ellie, leaving the show then to rely on self-described fortune cookie homilies about finding yourself and an agitprop narrative against the tyranny of the Queen of Hearts (“The Queen is just one person and we are everyone else,” Alice naively argues at one point) that would’ve made 1980s Militant activists blush at the unsubtly of it all. Not that the show even holds tightly onto this conflict; instead, there’s a big swerve into the consequences of the now-female Mad Hatter becoming a tyrant the equal of the Queen of Hearts. “That’s how Power works,” we’re told repeatedly. But only in Wonderland—as this is a show which avoids having any relevance to the outside world.

All of which might rather suggest that Wonderland is a bad show; far from it. A clear advantage of ageing the character of Alice is that it enables the director to cast a highly experienced performer in the role, and Kerry Ellis hits all the notes, both vocally and dramatically. That said, she has no time to relax while sharing the stage with either Natalie McQueen’s strutting Queenie-like Mad Hatter or the rotund delights of Wendi Peters’ all-too-briefly seen Queen of Hearts. This is a bold, colourful production, bursting with an energetic, sharply-focused cast including several stand-out performances among its ensemble. (Keep an eye out for Toyan Thomas-Browne, whose balletic grace and lightness is a joy; as well as the guileless physicality which Ben Kerr brings to the March Hare.)

All the same, when any show labours the point of character self-realisation with several songs—I Am My Own Invention, This is Who I Am, and Finding Wonderland for example—it’s either dramatic overkill or a desperate attempt to knock La Cage aux FollesI Am What I Am off the top of the gay anthem charts. And, sorry—that’s just not going to happen any time soon. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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Performances

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The Blurb

TV and West End star Wendi Peters, much loved for her acclaimed portrayal of Cilla Battersby-Brown in Coronation Street, will headline the UK tour of Wonderland as Queen of Hearts alongside musical theatre favourite Dave Willetts, who has previously starred in tours of South Pacific, 42nd Street and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, as White Rabbit.

West End and Broadway leading lady Kerry Ellis, best known for playing Elphaba in the West End and Broadway productions of Wicked, will guest star as Alice.

Following sold out seasons in Tampa, Texas and Tokyo, the multi Grammy and Drama Desk Award nominated Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland receives its UK and European première in this brand new British production.

Hailed by the New York Times as “inspirational”, Wonderland is an enchanting musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, with a huge heart, a medley of magic and a whole lot of wonder.

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