Wonderland has the potential to be this season’s Wicked. In fact, it’s really an amalgam of both Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz. I don’t think we should underestimated the importance of having a show which appeals to all age groups on The Great White Way. Until now, Disney has pretty much cornered the market with a largely anodyne assemblage.
Wonderland is the story of Alice (Janet Dacal, center, above), an exhausted modern day mom and wife who’s at the end of her rope. Dacal’s Playbill bio tells us she’s done “recordings and tours for various Grammy winning artists.” No more; with her knock-out performance, Dacal has stepped front and center, and established herself as a star. She bears a resemblance to Bernadette Peters, and if her work here is any indication, she’ll have an equally illustrious future in the theater.
Alice is separated from her husband, Jack (Darren Ritchie, center, above), who’s well-meaning, but out of work, which puts all the stress of bringing home the bacon on Alice’s shoulders. The strain in the marriage has clearly effected their daughter Chloe (Carly Rose Sonenclar), who must now share a home with her mom and her rather difficult grandmother, Edwina (Karen Mason). How the family members, through the events they experience and imagine, evolve to work towards a resolution of the conflict is the basis for the plot.
Chloe is the only character whose identity remains constant throughout the play; the family dynamic revolves around concern for her physical and emotional well being. Sonenclar has a phenomenal voice. When she starts to sing, the audience experiences a real Susan Boyle moment. I have mixed feelings about children doing jobs that are tough even for adults. But it’s clear that Sonenclar belongs on Broadway; American Idol, eat your heart out. She is winsome and appealing, never affected or bratty, and our affection for her is a large part of what makes the show work.
Once in Wonderland, Alice encounters the familiar characters, all in unfamiliar guises. The most fun is Jose Llana’s interpretation of the Cheshire Cat, El Gato. He’s the Latin stereotypical smoothie played to the hilt, with Antonio Bandares charm, and John Leguizamo comic timing. He thinks he’s invisible except for his smile, and everyone’s reluctant to disillusion him. (Llana, left, above).
I almost did a double take when Darren Ritchie entered the scene as Jack the White Knight. With darker hair, he’d be a Cheyenne Jackson doppelganger, and he’s got the chops to match. He’s dashing in tight pants and high boots, and he manages to be sincere without being sappy.
Whenever I see kids at the theater, I always get permission from their accompanying grown-up to ask questions. While all the youngsters loved the show, most of them singled out Jack and his backup singers performing doo-wop style as their favorite number. Veteran composer Frank Wildhorn has wisely kept the songs short; kids get restless when things drag on. The pace of this show never lets up, the better hold the attention of the super charged youngest generation of theater goers.
As for me, I relished the costumes; the Helena Bonham Carter style hats and dresses on the ladies of the court were particularly entertaining. Karen Mason enhances her flawless performance as The Queen of Hearts by effortlessly breezing across the stage in an elaborate peplum flared gown; this would be nearly impossible to navigate for a lesser professional. The red, yellow, black, and white card ensemble is pure Joan Collins Dynasty vintage, and to die for.
Kate Shindle (above) could come on in an old oak barrel, and still sizzle. As it is, she wears a top hat and Zatana outfit, making it even more impossible to look at anything or anyone but her when she’s on stage. She’s the fresh take on the Mad Hatter, perfect for today’s cutthroat culture. She’s scheming, done up to the nines, and oh so misunderstood. Next stop, Celebrity Apprentice.
There are plenty of in jokes and topical references to keep adults entertained. The Tea Party gets jabbed, the overbearing mother-in-law turns into a homicidal autocrat, and theater references abound. There’s an abundance of spangles and glitz for those of us who crave razzle dazzle. I could have lived without the searchlights; it almost goes without saying these days that the sound is way too loud; but the seats are actually comfortable, oh happy day.
Everyone I observed walked out of the theater smiling; those in cozy groups were happily chatting together. And even some curmudgeonly theater critics couldn’t hide the fact that they had a good time.
1535 Broadway at 46th Street
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics. www.michalljeffers.com