BOTTOM LINE: A modern adaptation of a classic that might just as well have been left unchanged, though it offers some enjoyable spectacle along the way.
Janet Dacal and Jose Llana in Wonderland. Photo by Michal Daniel.
There are certain stories that will always be timeless. Among this privileged group exist stories that confront the core of the modern human condition: the ongoing and constant quest to align the pieces of fractured self and recreate the whole, as is the case in Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland. But when grown-up Alice is thrown into Wonderland, now playing at the Marquis Theatre, she winds up looking for more than just herself.
This adaptation features an adult Alice (Janet Dacal) in Queens, New York, whose fall down the Rabbit Hole comes in the form of a quick ride down her building’s service elevator. Her marriage rests on tenterhooks, her writing career is crumbling before her eyes and her daughter’s old enough to see that the d-word (divorce) is just around the corner. Laying down for a quick nap after a hard day of attempting to teach English in the New York Public School System, Alice sees that pesky White Rabbit scurrying through her apartment and down to the service elevator. She follows him straight into an exuberant, technicolored Wonderland. On her mission to return home before her daughter notices her absence, Alice encounters all the quintessential characters from the classic, each slightly contemporized -– a hep-Caterpillar, a Zoot Suited Cheshire Cat (El Gato) and hunky boy-band leader, Jack the White Knight. But when Alice impresses the Queen of Hearts a little too much, the vampy and sinister Mad Hatter (with the help of Adam Duritz lookalike, Morris the March Hare) decides Alice must pay. The battle royale (more words than fists) rages in Wonderland’s bizarro world through the looking glass, ultimately ending with both Wonder-worlds and reality back in their right order.
Although several of the contemporary twists are genuinely amusing, few possess clear purpose. The Cheshire Cat, for example, now as El Gato, teaches Alice to dance in front of his tricked out ride. But while reminding us to remember our hips is all well and good, the wit, wisdom and weirdness of the character on which he’s based has been removed in exchange for more surface-level lessons. The tone, too, has significantly shifted. Unlike the world of Carroll’s original, where individuality is explored and societal expectations are debunked, this Wonderland asserts the importance and strength of the family unit, ultimately asking for individuality to be sublimated for the good of the nuclear whole.
The psychedelic spectacle befitting the notion of Wonderland, however, remains undiluted. Thanks to Neil Patel and Sven Ortel’s set and video/projection designs, respectively, the comparatively sparse set coupled with endlessly swirling graphics appropriately fills the stage when lyrics often fail to do the trick. As do Susan Hilferty’s costuming and Tom Watson’s wigs, presenting those zany Wonderlanders as dizzying, delightfully duplicate dancers.
Also deliciously unadulterated is The Queen of Hearts. Well-helmed by actress Karen Mason, swathed in Ms. Hilferty’s most impressive creations and gifted the diva-worthy, capital-punishment-crazed crowd-pleaser, “Off With Their Heads,” The Queen of Hearts appropriately garners the center of attention.
Overall, however, this Wonderland has not picked up where Carroll’s left off. No longer seeking the universal, it has diverged into topicality. Espousing belief in good-ole-fashioned family values perhaps enters Wonderland into a different category of so-called timelessness, but one that can’t help but feel a bit dated.
(Wonderland plays at the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets. Performances are Tuesdays at 7PM, Wednesdays at 2PM and 8PM, Thursdays at 8PM, Fridays at 8PM, Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $45-$145 and are available at ticketmaster.com or by calling 877.250.2929.)