Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Wonderland @ The Marquis Theatre

“Why is a raven like a writing desk?” More importantly, what does Broadway have to do with Lewis Carol’s classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass? In Gregory Boyd’s and Jack Murphy’s new musical Wonderland, the familiar tale of a girl who follows a white rabbit to the journey of her life; is rewritten with a modern day twist. This talked about musical is not a sequel, as some may have speculated, but a visit back to the loveable characters in the whimsical children’s tale; that, unfortunately, leaves theatre goers curiously unsatisfied.

The trip down this rabbit hole begins in New York City, where English teacher, trying to be an aspiring writer, Alice, has moved to her mother-in-law’s apartment, along with her daughter, Chloe, while Alice takes a break from her rough around the edges marriage. But when Alice lays her head down to try and alleviate a nasty head ache, she finds herself transported to the topsy-turvy world of Wonderland.

Wonderland’s cast was energetic, overall, and fully committed to their roles, exuding an energy so inviting, that makes it a shame to admit it is the only put together part of this show. Leading the cast as Alice is actress Janet Dacal, who approaches the classic heroine with a delightful spark, truly reinventing the Alices of Wonderlands past. With a power house of a voice, Dacal rocks every last song, whether it is a ballad or a belting number. And what would our heroin be without a knight in shining armor – or in this case a cream, equestrian uniform? Darren Ritchie delights the audience as Jack the White Knight, an eager-to-please hero, combining the wistfulness of Don Quixote and the over-gelled lead in a boy band. Humor and valor are masterfully portrayed in Ritchie’s performance, that has the gents snickering and the ladies swooning.

Other show stopping performances were that of Chloe, played by Carly Rose Sonenclar, and The Mad Hatter, played by Kate Shindle. Sonenclar’s voice is so unbelievably fantastic, it was nearly impossible to believe that those notes came from her little frame. The deliciously crazed hatter, shone onstage, as Shindle took command as the menacing antagonist, with a voice that proved who wore the hat in this production.

Even with a truly remarkable cast, the book, supplied by Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy, was less than desirable. With left field plot twists, blatant exposition, and trite lessons, the storyline was blasé to say the least, delivering nothing of what its teaser adds seemed to promise. Although the comedic one-liners try to save the show, the former issues outweigh the laughs. As for the music, composed by Frank Wildhorn, the cast packs a punch through each song, one number after the other, which really rallied the audience into louder and louder cheers, but lost its appeal towards the end of the first act, as each song turned into more and more of a ‘I’ll one up you’ fest. Even trying to give the first act the benefit of a doubt, what with it being heavy musically and only introducing the main conflict more than half way through, the second act takes a complete three-sixty, being sparse on the musical numbers and racing through the climax at the blink of an eye. Yes, it has been debated that this reviewer is over-thinking what is to be a children’s musical, allow this as a counter argument. If Broadway has hosted a children’s musical version of Hamlet, retold from an animal’s perspective, for over thirteen years, entitled: The Lion King, then these new, lowered expectations for the twenty-first century’s children’s musical is not only depressing, but insulting.

Neil Patel’s design, though dealing with a limited space, was creative, however, lacked that certain “WOW” factor, as there seemed to be a required change of set per each musical number. Costumes held the same unfortunate fate, as chorus members had change, after change, after change, having Susan Hilferty’s designs become less and less impressive as the play progressed. As for the dancing, for the abundant amount of movement that there was, Marguerite Derricks’ chorography lacked the razzle-dazzle, always having the potential to be impressive and nothing more.

As chaotic as the original land beyond the looking-glass was, there is no comparison to the mixed-up, mad house that is this musical. Then again, if it is a crazy night at the theater is what you are looking for, there are other rabbit holes to venture down for that.

Review By: James Russo & Sarah Hogan-DePaul

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