Book: Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy
Music: Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics: Jack Murphy
Director: Lotte Wakeham
Reviewer: Maggie Constable
Before Alice disappears down the rabbit hole we are treated at Milton Keynes Theatre to Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland, a magical musical based on the famous Lewis Carroll original stories. The acclaimed production, which has played to packed audiences across the ‘pond’, packs power and real heart but has at its centre a little story of love. We are also guided to consider our identity and where we are travelling in life. Plenty to think about in one evening, potentially.
We find ourselves at the beginning looking at Alice, a self-obsessed single mother, who has had enough of life. Not only has her car been stolen on her birthday but, to boot, she has just lost her job due to her late arrival at her work place. To add insult to injury, her ex-husband is about to wed again and it is therefore unsurprising that she is tempted by the mysterious white rabbit who magically appears before her. She dives off with Ellie, her daughter, and their insecure neighbour, Jack, via a lift, of all things, and then face a massive, talking looking-glass. This is where people who have forsaken the ‘real world’ go. In this new and magic environment, they encounter characters such as the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, Dormouse, March Hare and even the Queen of Hearts, but not one of them is precisely as one might recall them from the famous Carroll tales. The happy-forever ending comes for Alice, Ellie and Jack as they choose to go back home with a new view on life, but no spoilers here.
Kerry Ellis, who is known for playing Elphaba in Wicked, stars as Alice and does so with real stage presence and charm. She has powerful vocals and sings beautifully in the second part of the show in her duets with White Rabbit, Mad Hatter and Naomi Morris as her daughter, Ellie. Morris gives us believable versions of the sensible, responsible family member, much like Sapph in Absolutely Fabulous, and the alternative stroppy teenager. Dave Willetts is endearing as White Rabbit and holds the storyline together well. He brings out the best in the script. His singing in the duet with Alice is spot on. Natalie McQueen as the Mad Hatter does a great job with a superb and striking voice and much pizzazz. She delivers the humour well too. Jack is brought to us by Stephen Webb in an understated way at first. His metamorphosis is a tad unconvincing but he has a strong singing voice. His moves are all somewhat 70s Glamrock.
Wendi Peters’ Queen of Hearts steals the show not only with her singing range but also with her stage struts in those wonderful shoes and her fantastic facial expressions. Very menacing and funny at the same time. Kayi Ushe’s Caterpillar is very mellifluous and dreamy – just right. His costume is perfect. Indeed, the costumes overall, designed by Grace Smart, are very colourful and apt, adding much to the overall effect. Nick Richings’ lighting shows them at their best. The rabbit hole element of the set is a canny touch and the lighting complements it well but it is a rather static effect and the mirror is very lack-lustre, pardon the pun.
while Wonderland is entertaining and lively there are moments when it seems that each cast member is competing with the rest. In the first part of the piece, in particular, it is all very ‘shouty’, so much so that one cannot always hear the actual words during the big numbers. A shame, as when one can, the lyrics are quite clever. Similarly, the orchestra is very loud at times, as good as it is. All is much calmer in the second part of the production. At times pantoesque, this is a show with a talented cast, including the ensemble, and with some catchy tunes, good dancing and real enthusiasm but somehow it just does not get there, even with its heart and its moral tale. Nonetheless, a jolly time is had by all.
Runs until 22 July 2017 and on tour | Image: Paul Coltas