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.
WONDERLAND Broadway Reviews
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Catchy ‘Wonderland’ Has Beheading Queen, Air Guitar Cat
By their very nature, adaptations are familiar. Wonderland, the energetic and visually satisfying musical based on Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, pulls the story into the 21st century, relocates the characters to Queens, New York, and borrows enough music from award-winning productions to warrant a self-devised guessing game that might be called "Name That Show." This, in itself, becomes amusing when lyrics and tunes from the likes of Gypsy and The Music Man are incorporated into an early musical number. Less obvious, and perhaps inadvertent, references or melodic phrases pop up in subsequent songs that bring to mind Into the Woods, Jersey Boys, and Wicked—making the identity crisis in Wonderland more than Alice’s. Jack Murphy (lyrics) and Frank Wildhorn (music) are responsible. Still, the voices of the cast are uniformly good and there is a lot of razzle dazzle to push the plot forward, particularly in Act I.
'Wonderland' opens on Broadway
Bowing on Sunday at the Marquis Theater, “Wonderland” sports good performances, snazzy costumes and even some attractive tunes by Frank Wildhorn but writer-director Gregory Boyd’s approach proves pointless because it sheds no bright or at least interesting 21st-century insights on the Victorian material.
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.'
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.
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.
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.
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.
An irritating spin on a classic fairy tale
Broadway's scramble to find another "Wicked" for moms and tween daughters has led, perhaps inevitably, down the rabbit hole.
'Wonderland' Musical Falls Down Rabbit Hole
"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.
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.
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.
'High,' 'War Horse' and 'Wonderland' Strike Out, but 'Being Harold Pinter' Strikes Gold
But that's the accomplishment of Wonderland, written by Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy, with music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Mr. Murphy, and frenzied direction by Mr. Boyd. Its story is so overwrought and incomprehensible, its good cheer so forcibly relentless, its songs so overbelted and overmiked, that it blends into something entirely soporific.
A Miserable Trip to Wonderland
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.)
Wonderland is the sort of horrifically bad Broadway musical that doesn’t come along too often these days. Based on-- you guessed it—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this new work by Frank Wildhorn isn’t numbingly ponderous like such previous efforts by the composer as Dracula and The Civil War. Rather, it’s aggressively bad, almost but not quite enjoyably so, although that will be scant comfort to those who’ve shelled out for tickets. In any case, look for the poster for this one to quickly join the flop musical hall of shame adorning the walls of Joe Allen’s restaurant.
'Tis Wildhorn, and the hapless cast Does direly gambol on the stage. All flimsy is the plot half-assed, Not right for any age.
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.
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