Why do we go to the theatre? For most of us, it’s to take a break from the monotony of our existence and just, for a few hours enter a world of pure escapism. For musical theatre fans, it’s a place where people inexplicably erupt into song to express themselves and where fantastical stories become relevant through dreamy expectations.
Shows like Wicked and Into the Woods perfectly illustrate our love for fantasies set to music and Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland joins this acclaimed list as another musical, which evokes feelings of positivity, while promising happy endings in a world filled with negative media representations of life.
Wonderland has its roots in Lewis Carrolls’ tales about a magical world filled with colourful characters and in this contemporary adaptation we a meet a 40-year-old Alice (Kerry Ellis), who has come to a full stop in her unfulfilling life. Longing for a change, her teenage daughter (Naomi Morris) happens upon a mystical White Rabbit (Dave Willetts )and after following the hapless timekeeper down a disused lift shaft; the pair – along with their neighbour – embark on an adventure of self-fulfillment.
Along the way we are introduced to a community of ex ‘real-worlders’ who have taken the decision to live in an alternate universe rather than face the trials of life. They include The Mad Hatter (Natalie McQueen), the Cheshire Cat (Dominic Owen) and, of course, the devilish Queen of Hearts (Wendi Peters); a jam tart guzzling dictator, hell-bent on keeping Wonderland under her control.
The truly stellar cast leads us on a theatrical expedition of fun and playfulness, with an exceptional soundtrack adding some momentous musical interludes to the excursion.
Kerry Ellis’ Alice is both relevant and endearing, with the acclaimed performer’s exquisite vocals seamlessly maneuvering between rock and musical theatre standards. She is well matched by Natalie McQueen’s Mad Hatter, filled with quirky mannerisms, while exhibiting an astonishing vocal prowess of her own. The pair’s act two duet, “This Is Who I Am”, is worth the ticket price alone.
Wendi Peters makes the most of her limited contribution as the Queen of Hearts, steeling the show with every entrance and Naomi Morris is a real star of the future, hilariously capturing an awkward sullen adolescent and displaying a stagecraft, which belies her years.
There’s great support from the ensemble too, with stand out performances from Kayi Ushe as the Caterpillar and Ben Kerr as the March Hare, while Andrew Riley’s set design provides a simplistic yet attractive backdrop.
Yes, it’s all a bit superficial and the introduction of a love story is not really needed, but it’s nice to see something without hidden meaning that is simply presented to entertain rather than to provoke reaction.
Wonderland is a fabulously fun musical, with great music performed with style by an ultra talented cast and it’s likely to become a cult classic.