Wonderland (Tour) – Musical Theatre Review

When it comes to tales that get regularly updated or reimagined, I’m willing to bet Alice in Wonderland is very high on the list. So here we are then, a modern musical adaptation of Alice from Frank Wildhorn, Jack Murphy and Gregory Boyd, but given a zippy “British” book update by Robert Hudson.

We find Alice (a formidable Kerry Ellis) all grown up, a single mother to her young daughter Ellie (Naomi Morris) and living in a grimy block of flats. Alice is a failed writer, and still desperately yearns for her dreadful ex-husband to return home. Unfortunately for her, he is now getting remarried. To top it off, her car has been stolen, and she’s just been fired from her job as a travel agent. Could things get any worse?! So when that enigmatic creature The White Rabbit (Dave Willetts) runs into a broken lift and bids her to follow, Alice, her daughter, and Jack, the lovely but shy guy who lives downstairs, all tumble down to Wonderland with him.1

There’s plenty to admire in this production – Grace Smart’s colourful costumes are flawless, the music, although not particularly memorable, is witty and fun, and the cast work their crazy coloured socks off to entertain. However, this alone does not a good musical make. The story is complicated at best and offers no real sense of peril. A sub-plot about the Mad Hatter leading a bloody revolution against The Queen falls terribly short of anything actually exciting. Indeed, there are so many sub-plots to wrap up at the end, we have to sit through about five different ‘endings’ before we chug into the finale. The pacing is off here, and not helped by the minimal dialogue and far too many songs. This musical has always been plagued with a tangled book and I’m afraid it’s not much better here.

Having said that, the wildly talented and energetic cast do their best with a bad lot, although a few characters do at times fall foul of either shouting or mumbling their lines (sometimes both). Natalie McQueen’s Mad Hatter is such fun to watch and her comic timing is perfected to the second. Her burgeoning romance with the adorable March Hare also adds a nice foil to Alice and Jack’s blossoming love story, although I do have to give minus points for perpetuating the ‘more attractive without glasses’ trope at the end…! Kayi Ushe’s Caterpillar is a slinky, sexy guru, and Dominic Owen is a delightful Russel-Brand fuelled trickster as the Cheshire Cat. These figures loom large, but it’s the stoic Looking Glass who gets the best lines of the night, whilst transforming the main characters into alter-egos of themselves. One of the highlights of the night is Stephen Webb’s Jack and his magical transformation into a hero, not least his brilliantly performed boyband-inspired number ‘One Knight’ which the cast has lots of fun with.

Such a shame then, we don’t get to see much of the cast members who seem to be having the most fun on stage - Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are incredibly watchable throughout but are left to make up their own fun as they are without a scene. Furthermoew, Wendi Peters is simply having barrels of fun as The Queen of Hearts, so it’s a shame she’s hardly present, although she gives us two memorable numbers.

Ultimately, this show is LOUD. Noisy colours, busy movement, and an enormous score. But its vibrancy manages to keep it ticking along enough for a family audience, and there’s probably something for each generation to enjoy here. Needless to say, my inner 9 year old really wanted to be friends with The Mad Hatter – hostile take-over bid, or not! Ellis (of course) makes such a big sing look easy, and it’s pleasant to watch Alice’s realisation that she needs to be true to her inner self, even if it is a little bit obvious… This is a buzzy production with some genuinely funny highlights - one to catch if you’re dying to see Ellis in action, or be spirited away to the wacky world of Wonderland.

Wonderland
Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
Mon 17th July – Sat 22nd July, 2017

Then continuing on tour. Details available at -

http://www.wonderlandthemusical.com/

© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Tuesday 18th July, 2017

Author's review: 
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