Wonderland Review: The Mad Hatter As The Wicked Witch?!!

The following review was originally published on April 22, 2011:

“Take some more tea, “ the March Hare says to Alice. “I haven’t had any yet, so I can’t take more.” “You mean you can’t take LESS,’ says the Mad Hatter: “It’s very easy to take MORE than nothing.”

Those are lines I sill remember from our high school production of “Alice in Wonderland,” directed by Cathy Buchman, who was the daughter of a famous film and stage makeup artist and now apparently lives in Switzerland. But I digress. I played the Mad Hatter. It was with some excitement therefore that I attended “Wonderland,” the new musical at the Marquis Theater.

Sure enough, we soon meet the Mad Hatter, but we are told he is no longer the Mad Hatter, he has been forcibly retired. In his place is a Mad Hatter who reads tea leaves, is a member of a “Tea Party” said to be made up of an “angry, mean-spirited bunch of bullies” (get it?) and is “the second most powerful figure in Wonderland” who plans on toppling the Queen of Hearts. This Mad Hatter sings:

There is nothing I won’t do

There is nothing too taboo I will lie, I will cheat

I will track you down and hit delete

This Mad Hatter is not just Machiavellian; she’s a woman. She is also the main villain. She has enslaved the citizens of Wonderland. They have made the Mad Hatter into the Wicked Witch of the West!

Excuse me, but this is in a musical entitled “Wonderland” with the slogan “Alice’s New Musical”? Can nothing be done? Where is the Lewis Carroll Society on this? Maybe the petition should be issued by the International Wizard of Oz Club instead, for book writers Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy (who is also the lyricist) have turned Alice in Wonderland into an oddly updated Frank Baum after-school special.

Yes, there is an Alice. She is a grown-up (it is not clear to me that she is the grown-up Alice from Wonderland, or just a lady who also happens to be named Alice.) Alice is a mother, a failed children’s book writer (!) and a schoolteacher, who has moved with her daughter Chloe to a new home in the borough of Queens because she and her husband have just separated.

Suddenly, Alice falls into an express elevator (“Stand clear of the closing doors, please!”) and is delivered to Wonderland. She meets the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion – actually, the Caterpillar (portrayed by E. Clayton Cornelious, whose character sings soul), the Cheshire cat (Jose Llana, whose character is Latin, known as El Gato, aka Che) and the white knight (Darren Ritchie, whose character sings in a boy band.) She also attends the Mad Tea Party and makes an enemy out of the Mad Hatter, apparently because the Hatter feels that Alice will thwart her plans for succession.

So the Hatter goes up the express elevator back to Queens and kidnaps Toto — actually Alice’s daughter Chloe. I know this sounds like I’m writing a spoof for The Onion, but this really is the plot.

Would “Wonderland” have worked better if its creators had treated “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Wizard of Oz” the way they treat the Beatles, Star Trek, South Pacific,The Music Man, Gypsy – as one-line allusions and gags rather than their “inspiration”? The acting is fine, the choreography works, the sets and costumes are often riots of color and light — although they don’t seem so much a result of a unified style as an effort to keep our attention, like the doo-dads in a crib.
Frank Wildhorn’s songs are competent if unmemorable (I don’t know why there is so much antipathy towards this composer of “Jekyll and Hyde,” “Victor/Victoria”, the “Scarlet Pimpernel” and, ok, “Dracula.”)
“Wonderland” is certainly MORE than nothing. But the best thing about “Wonderland” is the curtain, decorated with John Tenniel’s familiar illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s book, punctuated by animations of Carroll’s words and phrases, swirling around the characters so beloved for so long. They make one want to go home and look at the illustrations and read the original “Alice in Wonderland” — or better yet, to have stayed home and read it.

Wonderland At The Marquis Theater Book by Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy; lyrics by Mr. Murphy; music by Frank Wildhorn; directed by Gregory Boyd; choreography by Marguerite Derricks; musical direction and incidental and dance music arrangements by Jason Howland; sets by Neil Patel; costumes by Susan Hilferty; lighting by Paul Gallo; projections and video by Sven Ortel; sound by Peter Hylenski; hair and wig design by Tom Watson; musical supervision and orchestrations by Kim Scharnberg; vocal music arrangements by Ron Melrose and Mr. Howland; fight director, Rick Sordelet; associate director, Kenneth Ferrone; associate choreographer, Michelle Elkin; music coordinator, David Lai Cast: Janet Dacal (Alice), Darren Ritchie (Jack the White Knight/Victorian Gentleman), E. Clayton Cornelious (Caterpillar), Jose Llana (El Gato), Karen Mason (Edwina/Queen of Hearts), Kate Shindle (Mad Hatter), Carly Rose Sonenclar (Chloe), Edward Staudenmayer (White Rabbit) and Danny Stiles (Morris the March Hare).