02/06/2011 02:16 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

We're All Mad Here

It's often said that going too far down the rabbit hole may not be a good idea. One wonders if that is just what the producing team behind Wonderland has done. The buzz around town (among the people who aren't consumed solely by Spider-Man talk) is that the show, scheduled to begin Broadway previews on March 21, is over $10 million shy of its capitalization.

At the start of the year, Producer William Franzblau submitted an SEC filing for Rabbit Hole Productions LLC, the funding body behind the musical. At that point, Franzblau, who is being billed as an Executive Producer (an uncommon title in Broadway circles), had received about $3.4 million of the $16 million he was trying to raise. I've heard he has gotten more since then, but is still not near the money required to actually start the show at the Marquis Theater next month.

I asked a production spokesperson about the finances. The only statement the producers (who also include the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and Nederlander Presentations) would offer was: "The show is on schedule and we are very thrilled about the work that was done in Florida."

In other words, there was no real response. But they did inadvertently remind me to talk about Florida. Wonderland had a pre-Broadway tryout at Tampa's David A. Straz, Jr. Center just last month for less than two weeks. Tampa isn't really known as a tough theater town, yet, the musical didn't receive raves. John Fleming of the St. Petersburg Times, who had seen at least three prior version of the show, wrote: "the task of matching a coherent adaptation of Lewis Carroll's whimsical classic with Frank Wildhorn's catchy pop-rock score remains elusive... I think that Wildhorn and his colleagues still have a way to go before it has a chance of success."

Does this seem like a money review to you? And, even if there were unanimous raves from the Sunshine State, an intelligent person would still have doubts about investing. No Frank Wildhorn musical has ever made money on Broadway. I've gone to all of them (plus a bizarrely high amount of his non-NYC shows), but they simply didn't recoup. Jekyll & Hyde cost less than half the amount Wonderland is expected to cost, ran for four years (1997-2001) and still lost about $1.5 million. (Yes, ticket prices were less than, but there is still a point to be made with these numbers.) Additionally, excellent reviews from Florida are not necessarily indicative of great success in the Big Apple. Nothing is. And, also, it is a crowded spring season.

Nevertheless, the producers are confident the show will be mounted on Broadway next month. That's definitely possible. For those uninitiated to behind-the-scenes theater happenings, raising money until the last minute is far from unheard of. Producers have been known to scramble around for those last few dollars--or even those last few million dollars--until the day previews begin. If they are wildly successful in their efforts, sometimes they are rewarded handsomely, much of the time they are not. Then there are those producers who are just successful enough at fund-raising to start up the show, but don't have enough cash to actually run it. Those folks close the production quickly or, sometimes, bounce checks while trying to keep it open (see any Mitchell Maxwell article). I've seen it all happen before. None of it surprises me.

And I personally wish the producers -- and entire Wonderland team -- luck. I wouldn't invest, but people have poured money into more ridiculous endeavors. This at least has the popular title/family friendly angles working for it. That certainly doesn't always mean success, but it's something. The plot also isn't without interest. Rather than just mount a musical of Alice in Wonderland, it's an updated story, following a troubled New York writer who goes through the rabbit hole looking for her daughter. That's a worthy premise. It just doesn't seem like one in a hit show.

It is going to be difficult for the Wonderland folks to get out of this hole. I wonder if it is worth the journey. I suppose the Mad Hatter would say something like, "Yes, bring it in at any cost, don't be late," but then he was mad. Oh, actually, it's a "she" who is mad in this Wonderland; the Mad Hatter is a woman onstage. Though, in real life, it is the people behind-the-scenes who may truly be mad. Only time will tell if they are mad geniuses or just plain mad. I'll hope for the former, but brace myself for the latter.