Review: Wonderland

I like these new adult sippy-cups they’re selling at Broadway show these days; what a cute, clean way to take a beverage to your seat! But I never actually buy them – too expensive for too cheap a piece of plastic. Except at Wonderland, where I needed a drink at intermission so much that I was willing to pay for the cup that went with it. Then I noticed people I knew clutching these cups. And then, when I got home, yet other people I had seen at the show were posting on Facebook about their much-needed intermission drinks.

Yes, kids, Wonderland is that special Broadway creature, a genuine, jaw-droppingly bad flop. One of those collectibles that you have to see just to say you were there. You know, Carrie, Dance of the Vampires, In My Life, that kind of thing. Oh, they offer their own kind of pleasure, but part of the deal is that they are in fact awful. You need that merch-encased cup of courage to steady your nerves.

Composer Frank Wildhorn, who must continue to get produced on Broadway solely because of his legendary personal charm, here attempts a new spin on Lewis Carroll’s classic story of Alice in Wonderland. Here Alice is a modern-day woman whose adventure takes her far below the streets of Queens, where all the familiar characters help her…do what? Rediscover her sense of wonder? Deal with her shadow self? Forgive her too-proud husband? There are all kinds of Hallmark card clichés being bandied about, but there is no sincerely meant thematic spine to this hot mess.

But this is only really dreary in the big second-act ballads; most of the time it is as spectacular as it is spectacularly bad. The design is colorful and fun, especially Susan Hilferty’s costumes, especially her creations for the Queen of Hearts. This is admittedly Wildhorn’s most tuneful score (which isn’t saying a whole lot), but in a blandly generic way, making me think Wildhorn should forget Broadway and give all of his work to Nashville or L. A.

Wonderland also has a terrific, hard-working cast, and choreography by Marguerite Derricks that is several times wittier than the words and music to which it is set. This show might actually run – I once heard a film executive talking about entertainment products that are “execution independent”, in other words, that don’t actually have to be good to sell. The Alice in Wonderland “brand” may keep this show around for a few months, and the sheer spectacle may generate some word of mouth. In other words, Wonderland will probably be on Broadway longer that it actually deserves to be.

For tickets, click here.

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