Friday, January 07, 2011

John Fleming writes about all-new Wonderland

The Lewis Carroll-inspired musical, which premiered in Tampa, returns after revisions.
By: John Fleming

Welcome to an all-new Wonderland.

Frank Wildhorn’s musical, inspired by the Lewis Carroll classics Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, returned to Tampa this week for 14 performances at the Straz Center, where it premiered in 2009. Since then, it has been staged in Houston and is being prepped for a Broadway production in New York, which is scheduled to begin previews March 21 and open April 17.

In the year since Wonderland debuted, the musical has undergone a few revisions — so if you saw it the first time around, here are a few significant changes you’ll notice.

1. It’s all about Alice.

“Coming out of Tampa and Houston, it became very clear that the story had to be totally about Alice,’’ says Judy Lisi, president of the Straz Center, who has been intimately involved with Wonderland from the beginning. “There were too many stories before.’’ There were too many times when Alice, who is having a crisis involving her work, her husband and her daughter, made a rather vague, unconvincing impression.

The show’s creators have now tailored the part to star Janet Dacal. “She’s a wonderful comedian,” Wildhorn says. “She’s kind of kooky, like Lucy (Lucille Ball). She dances great. When she smiles, it’s a moment, a powerful thing. After Houston, we said, ‘How can we create more moments for Janet?’” Even the color of Alice’s dress has been changed.

2. A new Hatter in town.

In Tampa and Houston, Dacal’s Alice never really clicked with her nemesis, the Mad Hatter, the hardrocking, villainous aide to the Queen of Hearts. So the Mad Hatter has been refashioned into a character who represents the dark side of Alice.

Nikki Snelson, who had been with the production since its first Actors Equity reading, was replaced with Kate Shindle, who was Miss America in 1998 and who played Vivienne, the haughty law student in the musical Legally Blonde . Unlike Snelson, Shindle is a statuesque presence, standing at least 6 feet in heels, and her Hatter towers over the 5-foot-5 Dacal’s Alice. Shindle has a sleek, ice-princess vibe that contrasts with Dacal’s warm, emotive style.

3. A new daughter, too.

Also recast was Chloe, Alice’s 10 year-old daughter who runs away to Wonderland with her mother in pur­suit. In Tampa and Houston, Chloe was played by a young adult actor, Julie Brooks, mainly for practical reasons, such as finances, but Brooks looked old enough to be Alice herself.

Now the role is played by 11-yearold Carly Rose Sonenclar, and that makes a big difference in the motherdaughter dynamics onstage. “It’s very easy to be more compassionate and connected when it’s actually a child,’’ says Dacal, bonding with Sonenclar in rehearsal, giving the girl a kiss on the top of her head at the end of one number. “Having a little one really plucks at the heartstrings.’’

4. More scenes, more music!

Whole scenes have been added (a tea party in Wonderland) and subtracted (a cocktail party in New York). The Jabberwock, a character with a big second-act number, was eliminated. Wildhorn and Murphy wrote four new songs, and several were cut.

Of course, what was cut can always be restored. Don’t Wanna Fall in Love , a bouncy argument song for Alice and her husband, Jack, was in the score in Tampa, out in Houston and is back in again, but in a different place. “We wanted to make the story move more swiftly,’’ Boyd says. “It took too long to get to Wonderland. Now I think it goes like a shot.’’

In the Picture at top: Wonderland cast members rehearse at New York’s New 42nd Street Studios.

Pictured: Darren Ritchie (standing on a chair), who plays Jack, the White Knight and Lewis Carroll; Janet Dacal (fourth from left, wearing No. 5), who plays Alice; and Kate Shindle (in top hat), who plays the Mad Hatter.

More information about Wonderland at the Straz, click HERE. On Broadway, click HERE.

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