A couple of weeks ago, Ross, Grace and I were invited to the Bristol Hippodrome to review the new musical, Wonderland, a mixed story loosely based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. The show featured the vocal talents of Kerry Ellis,
The story begins on Alice’s 40th birthday. She is a divorced single mum, unhappy and dissatisfied with her life. Much to her dismay, her ex-husband is re-marrying but she refuses to let go. On the same day, she has her car stolen, is sacked, loses her flat keys and forgets to buy dinner. Jack, the neighbour, who clearly has a thing for Alice tries to help but she just doesn’t see him, getting his name wrong on a number of occasions.
Thankfully, her daughter, Ellie, is there to pick up the pieces. She gives her mum her set of keys, gets some shopping and tries to cheer her up. She tries to help her mum see that needs to stop obsessing about her ex-husband, Ellie’s father, and start following her dreams of being a writer. Alice’s life was controlled by her ex and she had already been made to give up her job as a teacher. She announces she doesn’t want to live in the real world. Cue the entrance of the White Rabbit which Ellie chases. Catching up with him, Ellie and the White Rabbit disappear off to Wonderland in the flat lift. The White Rabbit then returns for Alice who is joined by Jack as they try to find Ellie and again they venture off to Wonderland.
Once they arrive in Wonderland, Ellie’s quest is to get home whilst Alice is contemplating staying and not living in the real world anymore. On their travels in the first act, they meet many of the characters which we are already familiar with from the books, however, they have had the musical makeover and aren’t quite as we remember them. These include the caterpillar, the Cheshire cat, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. The main difference here is that these characters were all once humans living in the real world.
The Looking Glass is one of the prominent features of the story. Basically, to return home they need to keep moving forward through Wonderland. This means going through the Looking Glass to become the opposite of what you are and find your real self. Ellie and Jack are the first to go through.
The whole story is based on making sure you are true to yourself. This then means you are free to follow your dreams. Something that Alice is scared of to begin with.
The 3 of us felt that the first act was rather long and drawn out. The first section dealing with Alice’s mundane life was great but then, it seemed to drag a bit as they tried to ensure that each character had their own song. It was a way of introducing them without really making much of a point. The journey of the first act was to get Alice from her flat to going through the Looking Glass and it took a bit of a while!
I would say that the high point of the first act for me was when Jack, having just been through the Looking Glass, returned transformed from a timid man into someone who had fulfilled his dreams of becoming a singer. On his return his resembled an 80’s boy band member looking like something out of Spandau Ballet! He had a 4 backing singers and, in a bid to get Alice’s attention, turned into the hero he always wanted to be. The song was cheesy, yes – but I loved it!
The second act really did redeem the first. There were some beautiful moments between Alice and Ellie and a fabulous duet from Alice and the Mad Hatter (played as a woman). The story line got itself into gear and, without giving too much away, the Mad Hatter – who wants to overthrow the Queen of Hearts and her ruling – realises what she is doing to herself and her friends in Wonderland.
Whilst the songs were very good, they weren’t really that memorable. I found myself singing the finale song after we left but that was about it I’m afraid. Kerry Ellis was in fine voice and really did justice to her part as Alice. Wendi Peters was great but I did find it surprising how little use they made of her and her character. She did struggle with one particular note at the end of one her songs but masked it well – it can’t have been easy singing after having eating a jam tart or two! I know how pastry can dry your throat out. David Willetts as the White Rabbit, is perfectly cast as he was a Judge in the real world and was in fine voice. Special mentions also for Stephen Webb who played Jack, as well as Naomi Morris who played Ellie and Michelle Pentecost who played the Mad Hatter. Both these ladies really held their own in duets with Kerry Ellis.
Whilst Wonderland won’t go down as one of my favourite musicals, I certainly found it enjoyable and a lovely piece of escapism. The writers need to tidy up that first act and then I feel it will go up a notch in my estimation.
To find out more about Wonderland the Musical, including a trailer, snippets of the music and tour dates, then nip over to their website: http://www.wonderlandthemusical.com/
For more reviews of Wonderland, visit the following bloggers:
Disclaimer: Thank you to the promoters who provided us with tickets for Wonderland the Musical in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.