Frank Wildhorn’s new musical Wonderland is a contemporary adaptation of the classic tale of Alice, who falls down the rabbit hole into the mystical world of Wonderland.
Alice (Kerry Ellis) is forty-years-old and lives in the middle of a city with her incredibly mature daughter Ellie (Naomi Morris). Stuck in a rut, and feeling rotten about herself, she is struggling with self confidence after her manipulative ex husband completely knocked it out of her. However, she is unaware that her charming and charismatic neighbour Jack (Stephen Webb) is in love with her.
On her birthday, she not only discovers that her ex husband is getting re-married, but she loses her job and is sent on a downward spiral. The White Rabbit (Dave Willetts) then appears on her doorstep, and whisks them all away to Wonderland, to discover who they really are.
Wonderland itself is whimsical, quirky and utterly bizarre. Taking huge influence from the novel, each character is heightened immensely. Centered around the idea of the Looking Glass, Alice discovers that if you step through, you come out a different version of herself. She toys with the idea of this, despite being sceptical to return back to her previous self – a strong and self assured woman.
It is a story of self-belief, self-discovery and learning to be true to yourself. Touching on some important and highly relevant issues, some of Alice’s dialogue resonates with topical themes. “Girls need to know that they should value themselves,” Alice says, as she talks about how her ex husband told her being strong minded and having a voice is unfeminine.
In the role of Alice, Kerry Ellis couldn’t shine any brighter. Her vocals are faultless as she belts out the remarkable numbers effortlessly. With a compelling stage presence, she is an absolute delight to watch on stage. Alongside her, Natalie McQueen gives a phenomenal performance as the Madhatter, both before and after her transformation through the looking glass.
Taking to the stage with power, McQueen has a feisty edge that is evident through her fiery numbers, such as the formidable I Will Prevail. Not to mention her stellar duet of This Is Who I Am with Kerry Ellis, that has high-powered vocals and striking harmonies – to be expected when two ex-Elphabas take to the stage together.
Embracing the role of the evil Queen of Hearts, Wendi Peters masters the comedic flair of the role and impresses with her strong vocals. It is a shame she only features fleetingly, as the numbers she does sing are outstanding, in regards to both characterisation and vocals.
The score is outstanding; it has power, pace and wit, and the cast do a sensational job filling out those dynamic musical numbers. However, the script itself is weak, as the dialogue borders on cringey numerous times. Despite the modern adaptation, the character of Alice’s daughter Ellie is slightly dated. When she transforms and becomes a stroppy teenager, the dialogue is a little try-hard. Although Naomi Morris does a fantastic job taking on the difficulty of the role.
Fortunately, the music pushes the narrative and engages us in the storyline. With spectacular belters, witty lyrics and slick orchestration – the soundtrack is definitely one to remember.
Wonderland is on at the New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham until Saturday the 11th of February.