MusicalNorth WestReview

Wonderland – Palace Theatre, Manchester

Book: Gregory Boyd & Jack Murphy

UK Adaptor: Robert Hudson

Music: Frank Wildhorn

Lyrics: Jack Murphy

Director: Lotte Wakeham

Reviewer: Sarah Holt

Wonderland has hit UK stages at just the right time. In a country where news of elections and international unrest is hitting the headlines every day, there are more than a few people who wish they could jump down a rabbit hole and escape to a different world.

In the case of this touring production, there isn`t actually a rabbit hole. Wonderland writers Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy have taken Lewis Carroll`s classic tales of Alice`s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and repurposed them for the 21st century. Carroll`s teenage Alice has been re-imagined as a 40-year-old single mum, living with her teenage daughter, Ellie, in a block of flats. In this version of the tale, the rabbit hole becomes an elevator shaft.

The audience is first introduced to Alice, played by Kerry Ellis, at a particularly challenging time in her life. She`s been given a parking fine, been fired from her job, and just received the news that her ex-husband – who she wishes she was still with – is getting remarried. Amid all this action, a white rabbit appears from a cupboard in the living room and Alice, her daughter Ellie played by Naomi Morris and neighbour, Jack (Stephen Webb), all chase it down the lift shaft.

Once the scenes are relocated to Wonderland, the plot of the musical takes leave from that of Carroll`s original story even further. Most notably The Mad Hatter – played by Natalie McQueen – is re-imagined as the feisty female owner of a hat factory.

Where the focus of Carroll`s classic tale is a battle between The Queen of Hearts and Alice, in this version of the story, the most compelling part of the plot homes in on the Mad Hatter`s own attempts to overthrow the Queen and take over Wonderland. The theme here is how power corrupts. A secondary yarn in the musical is Alice`s attempts to find herself, and the relationship that buds between her and Jack, as a result.

A lot of the dialogue in the show is mechanical. Themes, meanwhile, are explicitly explained. Despite being intended for an adult audience, the show tells rather than shows. So, lines are frequently delivered about power and its negative effects. Plus, there`s lots of dialogue about what it means to become a better person. It`s possible to forgive this element of the production, though. The musical numbers in the show more than makeup for the slightly clunky and predictable quality of the script. Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy have worked together to cram the production with West End-quality numbers.

There`s the hilarious boy band parody number One Knight, the gutsy I Will Prevail by The Mad Hatter, and the stirring Home by Ellie.  Of course, bold musical numbers don`t work without a competent cast of singers to deliver them. Wonderland the musical certainly has that. You might expect Ellis to be able to belt out her numbers, since she once played Elphaba in Wicked. However, Morris and McQueen also have pitch-perfect and powerful voices. The Queen of Hearts, played by former Coronation Street character actress Wendi Peters, also has a surprisingly impactful voice. Her rendition of Off With Their Heads smacks the audience right between the eyes.

The set socks it to you a little less. The interval, which is often a great opportunity for a scene change, is not utilised and the curtains open in Act Two to reveal the same staging as at the end of Act One. A few more special effects would be welcome in this show.

Will this musical set the world on fire? Probably not. However, it`s a great bit of escapism, and well worth a visit for a feel-good night out.

Runs until 30th April | Image: Paul Coltas

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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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