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Broadway Review Roundup: WONDERLAND - All the Reviews!

WONDERLAND. A New Alice. A New Musical opened on Broadway on April 17. WONDERLAND stars Janet Dacal as Alice, Darren Ritchie as Jack the White Knight, E. Clayton Cornelious as Caterpillar, Jose Llana as El Gato, Karen Mason as The Queen of Hearts, Kate Shindle as The Mad Hatter, Carly Rose Sonenclar as Chloe, Edward Staudenmayer  as The White Rabbit and Danny Stiles as Morris the March Hare. With a book by Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy, lyrics by Jack Murphy, music by Frank Wildhorn, choreography by Marguerite Derricks and direction by Gregory Boyd, WONDERLAND began performances at Broadway's Marquis Theatre on Monday, March 21.

WONDERLAND is produced by the David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts (Judy Lisi President and CEO), Franzblau Media Inc., Nederlander Presentations, Inc., The Knights of Tampa Bay (David Scher, Hinks Shimberg), Michael Speyer, Bernie Abrams, Jay Harris, Larry and Kay Payton, June and Tom Simpson, Independent Presenters Network and Sonny Everett Productions LLC. The design team is comprised of Neil Patel (set), Susan Hilferty (costume), Paul Gallo (lighting), Peter Hylenski (sound) and Sven Ortel (video and projection).

A new spin on the classic story of Alice and her Looking-Glass world, WONDERLAND is about a modern-day woman who goes on a life-changing adventure far below the streets of New York City, where a colorful cast of strange but familiar characters help her rediscover what's really important. So, what did the critics think? Let's find out... 

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Mr. Wildhorn's absence from Broadway since his 2004 adaptation of "Dracula" has not exactly occasioned widespread hand-wringing, and his competent rendering of various pop styles in "Wonderland" probably won't win him a host of converts. Mr. Murphy's lyrics are of a matching blandness, with Alice's earnest ballads of self-discovery amply stocked in cliché. ("I remember every moment when my heart was young and free," she sings upon meeting - literally - her inner child, "and to my surprise I look through your eyes and once more I can see.")... But Alice's adventures are perhaps most subversively appealing for their blithe indifference to the kind of tidy moralizing that had been a staple of Victorian children's literature. "Wonderland" thoroughly nullifies this aspect. Instead of transporting us back to an anarchic childhood world where right and wrong are just words like any others, to be tossed about at merry whim, the show drearily suggests that even grown-ups have to keep doing their homework, working doggedly toward self-improvement day after endless day.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: "Wonderland" doesn't know whether it wants to be a fairy tale or a rock opera or a trippy joke or a cartoon. The show, which had an extensive pre-Broadway stop in Tampa, Fla., proves that even out-of-town tryouts can't always help something that is unsound.

Phillip Boroff, Bloomberg News: Staged by Gregory Boyd, who co-wrote the book with Murphy, "Wonderland" isn't the most original or coherent musical. But it's light on its feet, a nice option for kids and at just over two hours, its length is wonderful.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: At first, the Queen seems faithful to Carroll's creation, albeit with nods to "Evita" and Momma Rose. Then she turns out to be downright grandmotherly. What a cop-out: It's hard to care for Alice's safety if there's no real danger. This is also typical of the work's misguided approach. Who is a musical about a grown-up Alice for? This show clearly casts a wide net, but it also takes family-friendliness as a license to be simplistic. Come on, "Wonderland," test us -- we're smarter than you think.

Joe Dziamonowicz, NY Daily News: Something resembling a plot doesn't arrive until late in Act I, as Alice's journey clarifies. It's about reclaiming deferred joy and the powers of dreams and self-invention lost and locked inside her. It's like a John Mayer song: your body - and mind - is a Wonderland. Performances are a mixed bag. Ritchie brings breezy zest to Jack, while young Sonenclar impresses with a remarkably mature voice she sometimes overworks "American Idol"-style. Swallowed up by her cubist playing-card costume, Mason could be funnier as the royal. The big-lunged Shindle appears stiff as the villainous Mad Hatter, but the role is written that way. Dacal ("In the Heights") displays a pretty voice and presence in her star turn. Alice's best number is her opening duet with Chloe, "Worst Day of My Life." It comes before they hit the rabbit hole. It is, alas, downward from there.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: There is some inspiration at work in Wonderland: It's not a bad idea to turn the Mad Hatter into a 6-foot-tall dominatrix in thigh-high boots (Kate Shindle); but beyond outfitting the villainess in fabulous footwear, Boyd doesn't seem to know what to do with her. And then there are some just plain puzzling concepts. Why is the Caterpillar (E. Clayton Cornelious) done up like the guy who carried around Diddy's umbrella? And how did they manage to make Dacal, who was so effervescently charming as ditzy hairdresser Carla in In the Heights, come off completely charmless as Alice? To quote the White Rabbit (Edward Staudenmayer), 'It's just sad.' C-

Steven Suskin, Variety: There is a distinct lack of wonder in "Wonderland," the new Frank Wildhorn musical at the Marquis. Unless one was to wonder how a big, Broadway musical based on Lewis Carroll's wildly inventive and delectably fantastical characters can be so utterly devoid of the aforementioned elements. Or to wonder why -- after a full-scale 2009 presentation in Tampa Bay and Houston -- the producers saw fit to remount this less-than-scintillating, $15 million tuner on Broadway.

David Rooney, Reuters/The Hollywood Reporter: His lumbering period pieces have notched up some of the most consistently scalding reviews of any seasoned Broadway composer, but Frank Wildhorn keeps coming back, like indigestion. It would be gratifying to report that his latest musical, Wonderland, deserves a warmer welcome, but this clumsy Lewis Carroll update shuffles bland ‘80s pop imitations and third-rate show tunes to minimal effect.

Scott Brown, NY Magazine: Wonderland is the worst kind of nonsense, the sort that attempts little and achieves less. Turgid with its own emptiness, this unctuously charmless show is proof that nothing from nothing somehow equals less than nothing. Its clone-songs, pop-cultured in the shallowest of Top 40 petri dishes, are all one-touch samples of erstwhile hits, most of them (weirdly) from the nineties. (Boy bands? Marc Anthony? No "ironic" cutaway or wink is too dated for this show-even by Broadway's forgiving standards. It sounds piped-in from Hell's very own lite-FM station.)

Robert Feldberg, "Wonderland" is the kind of musical Stephen Sondheim would write - in his worst nightmare. If Sondheim has demonstrated the wit, sophistication and dramatic artistry to which musical theater can rise, "Wonderland," which recklessly opened Sunday at the Marquis Theatre, reveals the appalling depths to which it can fall. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the show is awful in every way.

Michael Musto, The Village Voice: It's fairly lavish and there's occasional cuteness (like a fun if not exactly urgent spoof of boy bands), but it's mostly just lame and episodic, and without the sociopolitical commentary of the original, it seems to belong more in a theme park than on Broadway.

David Sheward, Backstage: Only Karen Mason's Queen of Hearts captures the gleeful insanity of Carroll's original. Decked out in costume designer Susan Hilferty's sumptuous playing-card ensemble, the dynamic, zany Mason briefly rescues the show in her two numbers, but she vanishes too quickly. When she quips, "I'm the real headliner here," truer words were never spoken. Hilferty's splashy Wonderland duds do create an arresting visual picture of a beguiling alternative universe, but when you go out humming the costumes, it's a sure sign of a failed production.

Walt Belcher, The Tampa Tribune: "Wonderland" has always had a talented cast and several solid songs and some good segments. But early on, parts of this play where stronger than the whole. Now it has come together into a fantasy adventure that could have a future on Broadway where it already has been playing in previews at the Marquis Theatre. Lead Janet Dacal can deliver a song, dance with fluidity and has a flair for comedy. She is a captivating charmer as Alice, a harried wife and mother who goes on a symbolic journey into her imagination (which happens be in the basement of her apartment building).

John Fleming, St. Petersburg Times: To be sure, Wonderland has a lot going for it, as I've said in other reviews. The production at the Marquis Theatre is visually striking, highlighted by Susan Hilferty's wildly inventive costume design. Wildhorn's pop score is chock full of exhilarating numbers, such as the salsa-flavored Go With the Flow, featuring Jose Llana as El Gato, a Latino Cheshire Cat, and Karen Mason's vaudeville turn as the daffy Queen of Hearts, Off With Their Heads (Mason also plays the mother-in-law). Darren Ritchie, playing the White Knight (and Jack, who appears at the end), leads a couple of sensational boy-band songs, One Night and Together...Dacal, the Cuban-American ingenue who has topped the cast from the beginning, remains an appealing, offbeat presence, and her ballad Once More I Can See is a gem, but she has limitations as a singer. Finding Wonderland, Alice's defining song that closes the show, requires a bigger voice. And some of her comic, kooky charm has been lost in New York. Wonderland needs an amazing, fully realized performance by its star, but too often, because of the ramshackle script, Dacal's Alice seems like an observer in her own story.

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