One of the first productions to hit the Playhouse this year is Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland, a
musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the
The curtain opens on Alice, a downtrodden divorcee, having the worst day of her life –
getting fired, learning her ex is remarrying – leaving her keen to escape the real world. As if
on cue, a talking white rabbit appears and leads Alice, her teenage daughter Ellie and their
neighbour Jack (who is in love with Alice), down the elevator shaft in their building to
Wonderland. In their efforts to return home, they meet all the characters we recognise, all
who instruct her to keep moving forward and go through the looking-glass. This brings out
the personality traits that were previously concealed, and Alice dares not go through in case
she becomes the strong-willed woman she believes was the reason for her marriage to fall
apart. But Alice must overcome her fears and go through the looking-glass to save
Wonderland, and gains more self-confidence along the way.
Edinburgh is the first stop on the UK tour, following sold-out runs in Texas, Tampa and
Tokyo, and features a stellar cast including Kelly Ellis (of Chess and Wicked fame). The
stylised set opens it well, using perspective effectively to give the stomach-lurching feeling
of looking down a rabbit hole, and well-placed physical theatre adds interest to some of
Carroll’s iconic characters. Sadly though, with so many characters to fit in and each given a
song, there is no time for development. Alice herself is an obvious caricature of a damsel in
distress, and Ellie, whose sensible nature originally shows integrity against her mother’s
childlike demeanour, comes out the looking-glass a simple, stereotypical stroppy teenager.
Unsurprisingly, Jack comes out a hunk with boy-band dance moves to match (and is oddly
now also the spitting image of David Hasselhoff). When Alice finally goes through herself
she brings an empowering message about independence: which, though not at all subtle,
does help, balance her behaviour at the start. It also leads to a powerful belter of a duet
“This is who I am” from Alice and the Mad Hatter (Natalie McQueen), whose strong
performance in this supporting role is praiseworthy throughout.
As a whole the music is much better in the second half, and it is here we see the connection
to musicals such as Jekyll and Hyde for which Wildhorn is famed. Sadly though, great songs
are often undermined by unoriginal and often cheesy moments directly after, giving this
show the air of a pantomime that just missed the Christmas season.
It is hard to do this story justice, particularly in a musical, and this attempt fell far from the
magical world we all know as Wonderland.