“Wonderland” to open on Broadway in April

Karen Mason and Nikki Snelson in the Tampa premiere of "Wonderland." Photo by Michal Daniel

A Broadway bow in 2011 has been scheduled for’Wonderland: A New Alice, the Frank Wildhorn musical that received its world premiere in Tampa last December starring former Miamian Janet Dacal.

The cast has yet to be announced for the show, which is slated to open at an undetermined Nederland theater on April 17, 2011, with previews beginning March 21.

Prior to that, the show will get another shakedown at Tampa’s opulent Straz Center for the Performing Arts Jan. 2-16, the same venue where it premiered.

In its initial incarnation,’Wonderland (no ‘new Alice’ in the title at that point) was a surreal hybrid of both Lewis Carroll’s Alice books brought into the 21st Century centering on an ultra-busy businesswoman who loses sight of her family until her daughter goes down the rabbit hole and she gives chase.

I caught’Wonderland last January and it showed undeniable promise in the pop musical vein that Wildhorn revels in. There was a delightfully anarchic hodge-podge of styles in the rock-heavy score, energetic razz-a-ma-tazz performances including the winsome Dacal, and massive spectacle in its sets by Neil Patel, lights by Paul Gallo, costumes by Susan Hilferty, choreography by Marguerite Derricks and projections by Jon Weston. The creative team remain on board , according to Straz spokesman Paul Bilyeu.

Wonderland clearly wanted to be an adult pop culture juggernaut patterned closely after’Wicked.

That said, the show desperately needed to be hauled into the garage for work, or more precisely taken to the fat farm for a sweating out session. The book by director Gregory Boyd and lyricist Jack Murphy was simplistic at times and undecipherable at others. But the real problem was the bloated score. Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde), the 500-pound gorilla in the circus, had several songs that went on two or three verses too long. Some production numbers and power ballads were written to give every featured performer a chance to shine, but did not advance the plot a whit or illuminate anyone’s character.

The creative team knew this long before opening night in Tampa. The initial book by Phoebe Hwang was replaced by a long series of revisions that led to jokes among the cast and creative staff.

But Wildhorn and Co. had faith. They already had a concept album selling in the lobby, although some facets had changed even by the time the curtain went up.

The first production cost $3.5 million, all footed by the Broadway Genesis Project, an initiative by the Straz Center to develop new musicals for Broadway plus get a cut of any future profits. The project has received several new scripts to consider, but is waiting for the outcome of the’Wonderland experience before proceeding, Bilyeu said.

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