Review: Wonderland

© Paul Kolnik

Down the rabbit hole indeed.


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. 


The show updates the story to modern times, with Alice (Janet Dacal) portrayed as the recently separated mom of a young daughter (Carly Rose Sonenclar) who is struggling to make ends meet as a teacher while finding rejection of her too dark children’s book from publishers.


When the White Rabbit (Edward Staudenmayer) shows up in her Queens apartment, she impulsively follows him into a mysterious elevator that transports her to Wonderland. There she encounters the classic characters from Lewis Carroll’s classic, albeit in contemporary-Wiz like variations. The Cheshire Cat, for instance, is now the Hispanic “El Gato,” although he’s played by Asian-American performer Jose Llana.


Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy’s would-be hip book does no favors to the original tale, pandering to the audience with such obvious jokes as a Mad Tea Party reference to a certain current political movement.


Wildhorn’s pop-rock score is thankfully easier to take than his usual operatic, power ballad-heavy efforts, but it contains few songs of note, save for the vaudevillian style comic number “Off With Their Heads” that is delivered in bravura fashion by Karen Mason as the Queen of Hearts. (The actress also doubles as Alice’s helpful mother).


Although some of the numbers feature clever touches, such as the male back-up singers performing cheesy boy-band dance moves during the White Knight’s (Darren Ritchie) “One Knight,” most of them resemble the sort of cheesy production numbers seen on old TV variety shows. It doesn’t help that the score briefly interpolates classic songs from such shows as The Music Man and Gypsy that chiefly serve to remind us of far superior theater composers.


The serviceable set designs make ample use of video projections to convey the dream-like environment. Far better are Susan Hilferty’s frequently witty costumes, although they pale in comparison to the Oscar winning ones in Tim Burton’s recent big-screen version of the tale.


Dacal is an engaging presence as Alice, while the male performers, who also include Danny Stiles as the March Hare and E. Clayton Cornelious as the Caterpillar, go through their paces with dutiful outlandishness. Kate Shindle goes into full diva mode as the Mad Hatter and displays impressive pipes on her anthem-like “I Will Prevail,” but she is ultimately defeated by the material.


Needless to say, the story ends happily, except for the hapless audience members who’ve had to endure the witless proceedings.


Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway. 877-250-2929.