Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is an anarchic tale that upstaged Victorian conventions. Dreamy and dark, it sent a young girl down the rabbit hole into a world populated by wild and crazy characters. But recreating that subterranean fantasy is challenging in the theater. You know you're in trouble in Wonderland when the animated curtain is the most sophisticated part of the Broadway production.
In this rendition, now at the Marquis Theater, Alice (Janet Dacal) is an overworked adult, separated from her unemployed husband and living with daughter Chloe (Carly Rose Sonenclar) in Queens. (Sonenclar's singing voice bests some of her adult rivals.) When she enters Wonderland, she's bombarded with feel-good goop about getting in touch with her inner child; the musical is filled with clichés that litter women's magazines, rather than inspired by the book's surrealism.
Alice meets the Cheshire Cat (Jose Llana, a cool Hispanic called El Gato), the Caterpillar (E. Clayton Cornelious) and the White Rabbit (Edward Staudenmayer) as if she's rushing through a department store en route to the big sales. The White Knight (Darren Ritchie) is a clean-cut type, supported by a "Glee"-style boy band. He's enamored of his own potential heroism, which works, but the production's digs at Disney and the nods to classic Broadway shows (Gypsy, Music Man, South Pacific) seem curiously at odds with Carroll's unique creation.
The one standout, the Queen of Hearts (Karen Mason), gets a fun number "Off With Their Heads," while the Mad Hatter (Kate Shindle), recast as a dominatrix thirsting for power, is effective, but suffers from the orchestra playing over her big moment.
The enjoyable pop score is courtesy of Frank Wildhorn, best known on Broadway for Jekyll & Hyde, but he isn't helped by a banal book and scenery that depends on 1970s psychedelic lighting for eerie visuals. Susan Hilferty's costumes are whimsical and the cast tries hard, but Wonderland fails to amaze.
Revamping a beloved story takes thoughtfulness and finesse; Wicked mined The Wizard of Oz in a deep, provocative way, aided by extraordinary theater craft. By contrast, Wonderland up-ended a 19th-century nonsense tale with 21st-century triteness. The Mad Hatter's watch has the ability to turn back time; the creators of Wonderland should follow his lead and return to the drawing board.