Don’t go through this looking glass. If you see any white rabbits running around the Marquis Theater in Times Square, do not follow them to the box office. No matter what supernatural force lures you, resist seeing Wonderland, the new musical by Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy. With a book by Murphy and the director, Gregory Boyd, this musical is nothing more than a psycho-babble self-help book featuring generic pop pastiche music and a disappointing revisit of the eighties hit The Wiz.
In this version, Alice is an English teacher who longs to write children’s books. She has recently separated from her husband and moved into a new apartment with her daughter Chloe (Carly Rose Sonenclar, a remarkably poised performer with a truly lovely voice). After falling asleep on Chloe’s bed, Alice follows the White Rabbit (Edward Staudenmayer) down an elevator shaft and finds herself in Wonderland. While attempting to find her way home, she encounters the usual cast of characters including the Caterpillar, El Gato (this show’s version of the Cheshire Cat), and the White Knight, all of whom advise her through song on how to improve her life. The Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter also make appearances in a convoluted and poorly executed plot that I think is supposed to resemble political parody but falls very, very short of doing so.
Alice is played by Janet Decal, who has a very strong voice but no star presence. She is given very little to do other than play the straight woman and stand on the side of the stage, watching the zany antics of the other performers. Even when determined to save her daughter from the evil Mad Hatter, she does not possess any real passion.
The supporting cast is certainly working hard. The White Knight is ably performed by Darren Ritchie in a send-up of the five-member boy bands that populated the radio during the nineties. His tight white pants are pleasant to view, but his character possesses no depth at all. Jose Llana is slick and smooth as El Gato, but he is given poor material to work with. His one solo, “Go With The Flow,” appears to teach Alice that learning to dance will solve all of her financial and marital problems. And E. Clayton Cornelious, playing the hookah-smoking Caterpillar, is a suave charmer. The three strongly resemble the trio of male friends who accompany Dorothy to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz, but instead these companions take Alice through the looking glass to battle the Mad Hatter.
Even though the Mad Hatter is supposed to be evil (or a dominatrix – I wasn’t sure after seeing her costumes in Act Two), I couldn’t help but pity her for the horrible lyrics she is forced to sing. Kate Shindle is a talented singer and looks stunning in her costumes, but she has to make lines such as, “Well, hello there, it’s me, with how it’s gonna be,” plausible. I doubt if Meryl Streep could accomplish that.
Karen Mason, who plays the Queen of Hearts, is the only cast member who somehow manages to rise above the shoddy script and deliver a real performance. Sadly, her attempt at a showstopper is also underwhelming, and, of course, titled, “Off With Their Heads.”
The book is insultingly predictable, with an even more clichéd ending. The message is, of course, about Alice learning to reclaim her childhood, and, of course, it is belted at full volume in a performance that would put most American Idol contestants to shame. After inexplicably encountering Lewis Carroll, the author of the original book Alice in Wonderland, along with herself as a child, the adult Alice resolves to “treasure every moment, with my heart strong and free.” I only wish I could have done the same thing while watching this show. Unfortunately, that was impossible.