Frank Wildhorn presents a contemporary take on Lewis Caroll’s classic story about a girl in trouble, who falls down a magic hole in an effort to solve her problems. Wonderland places Alice (Kerry Ellis) as a single, feminist mother trying to do best for her daughter when she loses her job, car and all hope… until a rather mature and distinguished White Rabbit (Dave Willetts) takes her down the elevator to Wonderland. It is a show that re-invents the tale for contemporary audiences antagonising the once lovable Mad Hatter (Natalie McQueen).
The fundamental problem with this production is its confused design. Undergoing a complete re-design from its Broadway premiere, this new concept with Set by Andrew Riley, Lighting by Nick Richings and Costume by Grace Smart, places a contrasting theme to Alice’s real world (a bleak black and white place) and Alice’s Wonderland (a neon rainbow world). Unfortunately, even with this new concept, it's still the design behind the story that lets this production down. Andrew Riley's never-ending spiral of circles sets the stage nicely, but it's the cartoon bushes and creaky set that loses its appeal. A similar problem is experienced in Nick Richings lighting design where several moments are missed, it is to a degree understandable due to the limited tech time in the venue, but it was heightened by the occasional clunky scene changes.
Frank Wildhorn's score contains some great numbers, notably Through The Looking Glass and Finding Wonderland. A punchy Act One Finale is complemented by a few pleasing solos and a mysterious, scene setting underscore in Act One. It feels like there is still a bit of work to do on the music, but this is salvaged by several strong performances of the night. Natalie McQueen shines as the Mad Hatter. In this production this character is not a friendly eccentric but an evil antagonist. Her performance is faultless and her voice is stunningly powerful in The Mad Hatter, following up with outstanding vocals in I Will Prevail where the score began to strengthen. Her vocals also blended well with Kerry Ellis in the latter of Act Two in This is Who I Am. Ellis, who leads the piece, provides some strong vocals and works well with Kayi Ushe as the smooth, soul Caterpillar in Advice From The Caterpillar.
It felt like there was a bit of a spark missing, but it is clear this production has an abundance of potential.
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