Considering the massive success of the Broadway juggernaut Wicked, it’s actually quite surprising that someone took seven years to hatch a musical update of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland — a fairytale that appeals to children and adults, an age-old story that crosses all language barriers (perfect for non-English-speaking ticket buyers!), a colorful storybook setting that possesses unlimited visual potential. Yet Wonderland is no Wicked; it’s actually a crashing bore, from its clunky New York City-set beginning to its cliched happily-ever-after finish.
Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde), the composer audiences tend to love and critics love to hate, will surely get the brunt of the blame, particularly after his most recent Broadway outings, 2004’s short-lived Dracula and 1999’s even shorter-lived The Civil War. Yet Wildhorn has always been able to crank out a catchy tune; ”One Knight” — the toe-tapping boy-band spoof for Jack the White Knight (Darren Ritchie) and his Backstreet Boys-esque backup singers — is Wonderland’s winner. What Wildhorn has never been able to do is find a great librettist to give voice to his melodies. When we meet our intrepid grown-up heroine, Alice (Janet Dacal), we know she’s a newly separated teacher in the Bronx; we gleaned it from a chat between her preteen daughter (Carly Rose Sonenclar) and mother-in-law (Karen Mason) laced with subtle-as-a-sledgehammer phrases like ”she’s teaching in the Bronx” and ”with your mother and father living apart” — all within the first 90 seconds of the show! Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy — also the director and lyricist, respectively — are responsible for the sluggish script, which wrings its biggest laughs from a Disney joke (so five years ago) and a Tea Party gibe (which is at least topical and seemed to get quite a chuckle out of Republican audience member Mike Huckabee the night I attended).
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-
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