Darren Ritchie, Janet Dacal, and Jose Llana
in Wonderland
(© Paul Kolnik)
Darren Ritchie, Janet Dacal, and Jose Llana
in Wonderland
(© Paul Kolnik)
There's little rhyme or reason to Wonderland, the splashy, high-tech new musical extravaganza now playing at Broadway's Marquis Theatre. Given that the show is a contemporary variant on Lewis Carroll's fantastical stories about Alice's trip down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass, this may seem like a compliment. But, unlike these deliberately crafted classics, there's nothing precise or controlled about this show's randomness.

As reimagined by bookwriter Gregory Boyd (who's also directed) and his collaborator, lyricist Jack Murphy, Alice (Janet Dacal) is a woman who's recently separated from her husband and living in Queens with her daughter Chloe (the exceptionally bright and never precocious Carly Rose Sonenclar). Neither mother nor daughter are happy about their lives, and after one particularly bad day, Alice begins to drowse just as The White Rabbit (Edward Staudenmayer) runs through the apartment. It's little surprise that she follows him.

It's tough not to be wowed by Sven Ortel's trippy and eye-popping animations as Alice descends into Wonderland. But, as the show progresses -- particularly when his work begins to resemble the visuals from Tron -- theatergoers tire of his flights of fancy.

Once Alice has arrived in this fantasy land, the production devolves into a series of specialty numbers strung together by a confused plotline about how the White Rabbit, along with the hep Caterpillar (E. Clayton Cornelious), El Gato (an indefatigable and often funny Jose Llana), and Jack the White Knight (Darren Ritchie), set off on a Wizard of Oz like journey to get Alice home. Unfortunately, Alice's arrival has coincided with -- and disrupts -- the plans The Mad Hatter (Kate Shindle) has for overthrowing The Queen of Hearts (Karen Mason), forcing Hatter and her sidekick March Hare (Danny Stiles) to kidnap Chloe.

Alice and Chloe's reunion does happen, but only after Alice has had two simultaneously surreal and treacly encounters with her younger self (also played by Sonenclar) and The Victorian Gentleman (also played by Ritchie), and her pals have defeated Mad Hatter's soldiers, sporting spiked helmets that seem to have been inspired by those worn by Germans in World War I. (The inventive, although incongruous, costume designs are by Susan Hilferty).

Frank Wildhorn's bombastic anthems and lung-ripping power ballads are as patchwork as the costumes and storyline. Inexplicably, the Queen of Hearts' opening number references Gypsy, South Pacific and The Music Man. Murphy's lyrics are serviceable, but too frequently saccharine.

At the show's center is Dacal's overwhelmed Alice, but she has so captured the character's ordinariness that she's dwarfed by the sprawling material and production. As her foes, Mason relishes the two chances she has to take center stage and wows with her ability to conjure star turns of musical theater's Golden Age; but Shindle has a trickier time with Hatter, primarily because the part itself is simply ill-conceived.

But ultimately, what's most appealing about Wonderland is Ritchie's turn as the earnestly dry Knight, who with his pals (dressed like sexy polo players), gets to deliver two boy band-like numbers. The songs, wittily choreographed by Marguerite Derricks, are among the rare moments that enliven this eventually benumbing show.