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Wonderland Tour - Birmingham Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Go Down The Rabbit Hole To Rediscover Alice
When a new musical has something special about it, wherever it is in the world, word normally spreads like wildfire. You only have to look at the recent phenomenon of Hamilton to see that.

wonderland musical, Birmingham, UK tour, New Alexandra Theatre, review, Weekend Notes
Wonderland is a musical based on the famous Lewis Carroll tale.


Wonderland - a musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass - first appeared in the US and is now embarking on its first UK tour, but is still relatively unheard of on these shores. So does it have the theatrical class to pull the rabbit out of the hat?

This new tour reached Birmingham's New Alexandra Theatre this week following nominations for Grammy, Tony and Drama Desk Awards and sell-out seasons in Tampa, Texas and Tokyo. It returns back to the Midlands in July at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre but also visits venues including Wimbledon near London and Manchester.

Many of you probably know that Lewis Carroll's tale from over 150 years ago focussed on the heroine spending an hour underground meeting fantastical, often shape-shifting characters, in what ends up being a dream.

wonderland musical, Birmingham, UK tour, New Alexandra Theatre, review, Weekend Notes
Bright costumes and set in Wonderland


In this modern adaptation to the original stories, Alice gets a Bridget Jones Diary makeover and is now a whining 40-something troubled woman with career issues, an estranged husband and a dysfunctional relationship with her daughter.

It's amidst this backdrop that Alice finds herself dropping into Wonderland with her daughter and a doting male neighbour where she encounters a motley crew of characters that help her rediscover herself and the importance of challenging the evil dictatorship of the Queen of Hearts.

There are some 21st Century changes to the characters and plot - some of them work but some miss the mark.

It's refreshing that instead of falling into a rabbit hole, they enter Wonderland through a broken lift in their tower block and that the Mad Hatter is a female who becomes a power-hungry Donald Trump-like crazed figure shouting 'You're Fired' after stepping through the looking glass to discover her other side. There's also an endearing aside of a burgeoning romance between the Mad Hatter and the March Hare.

wonderland musical, Birmingham, UK tour, New Alexandra Theatre, review, Weekend Notes
This is the first UK tour from Wonderland


On the down side however, there's no drink me/eat me scene of shrinking or getting larger, which is a shame, and the version of the Cheshire Cat doesn't seem to smile that much but is some kind of annoying streetwise cat trickster.

The first quarter of the show is also haphazard with a lack of spirit in the script. It's only when the talking Looking Glass comes on stage that the humour, action and pace of the production lifts dramatically.

As each of the characters step through the glass to discover their hidden self, it's like a scene from TV show Stars In Your Eyes. They reappear through hazy smoke with a new look and attitude. Daughter Ellie is very funny emerging as a sulky teenager while the neighbour is transformed into a hunk who performs hilarious boy band style routines at random intervals.

Despite limitations to the plot and script, the lead actors can't be faulted, and all belt out a tune really well, particularly Kerry Ellis, best known for playing Elphaba in the West End and Broadway productions of Wicked, as Alice. She is a sensational singer, but sadly the songs aren't as memorable or as strong as her voice.

It's a shame, as the soundtrack has been written by Frank Wildhorn, who wrote an array of pop hits including Whitney Houston's epic Where Do Broken Hearts Go? The songs aren't bad but they aren't catchy enough to make Wonderland stand out amid other touring musicals like Wicked, Mamma Mia! or Miss Saigon, for instance.

wonderland musical, Birmingham, UK tour, New Alexandra Theatre, review, Weekend Notes
Music and dance routines in Wonderland


Meanwhile, there's the well known face of Wendi Peters (Cilla Battersby-Brown in Coronation Street) who's a scene stealer as the jam tart-eating Queen of Hearts. She plays the role with the right level of eccentricity and meanness. It's just a pity that she doesn't spend that much time on stage.

Wonderland is an interesting take on the Lewis Carroll classic tales which manages to still capture the bizarre wildness and nonsensical aspects of some of the characters. There's a mix of romance and mother and daughter reconciliations and it nicely ties everything up with a few morals on the importance of being yourself and standing up to tyrants.

It's an enjoyable enough escape but it's also frustrating that there is a superb cast limited by the restraints of the show. Ultimately, there's a reason that Wonderland hasn't yet become a household name.

Rating:



Wonderland UK Tour

It's worth noting that Ellis won't be performing as Alice in matinee performances. She's also only playing the lead role on tour in Birmingham, Bromley, Woking, Manchester, Wimbledon, Bristol, Brighton, Liverpool, Stoke, Milton Keynes, Bournemouth. At other cities it will be Rachael Wooding.

Tickets cost from £17.50 - £50.40. Visit the Wonderland website

6 – 11 Feb
Birmingham New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011 or visit the ATG website.

13 – 18 Feb
Southend Cliffs Pavilion
01702 351 135

20 – 25 Feb
Oxford New Theatre
0844 871 3020

27 Feb – 4 Mar
Grimsby Auditorium
0300 300 0035

6 – 11 Mar
York Grand Opera House
0844 871 3024

13 – 18 Mar
Bromley Churchill Theatre
020 3285 6000

21 – 25 Mar
Derry Millennium Forum
028 7126 4455

27 Mar – 1 Apr
Belfast Grand Opera House
028 9024 1919

3 – 8 Apr
Woking New Victoria Theatre
0844 871 7645

10 – 15 Apr
Blackpool Opera House
0844 856 1111

18 – 22 Apr
Southampton Mayflower
023 8071 1811

24 – 29 Apr
Manchester Palace Theatre
0844 871 3019

2 - 6 May
New Wimbledon Theatre, London

8 - 13 May
Bristol Hippodrome

30 May - 4 June
Brighton - Theatre Royal

6 June - 10
Princess Theatre Torquay

12 - 17 June
Wonderland - The Musical (Touring)
Liverpool Empire Theatre

26 June - 1 July
Llandudno - Venue Cymru

3 - 8 July
Glasgow Kings Theatre

10 - 15 July
Stoke-on-Trent - Regent Theatre

17 - 22 July
Milton Keynes - MK Theatre

31 July - 5 Aug
Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

7 - 12 August
Richmond Theatre
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Why? See new musical based on Alice in Wonderland
When: Touring Feb to August 2017 in UK
Phone: Various see list
Where: UK tour including New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham and Wolverhampton Grand Theatre
Cost: From £12
Your Comment
Thart it is disappointing about the Drink me scene and the Cheshire Cat. The Drink Me is probably one of my favourites and I consider it a crucial part of the story.
by Bryony Harrison (score: 4|11435) 226 days ago
I saw Wonderland in Birmingham and Alison's review is spot-on. I'd add that the sets and props were very imaginative. Particularly impressive was the caterpillar who had many legs courtesy of four female dancers. And Natalie McQueen was excellent as the Mad Hatter.
by Andy Coleman (score: 1|49) 227 days ago
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