Review: “Wonderland” (UK Tour)

Stagey Rating: OBSESSED

Thursday March 16, 2017 @ Bromley Churchill Theatre
Cast: Michelle Pentecost, Natalie McQueen, Wendi Peters, Stephen Webb, Dave Willetts

Alice-700x455
Stephen Webb, Kerry Ellis & cast in “Together”

Considering I’ve waited 5 years to see this show, it’s safe to say I was excited. So on a Thursday afternoon in Bromley I went down the Rabbit Hole for the first time, to Frank Wildhorn’s WONDERLAND. Unfortunately the show didn’t last long on Broadway (under 2 months in fact!) and I do see why, the music was there, but the plot was muddled; although that’s not the case for the UK touring premiere. The short of the story, not to give much away, follows teacher Alice, her daughter Ellie and next door neighbour Jack as they follow a White Rabbit (Dave Willetts) down to Wonderland, because, why not! In Wonderland, everyone is basically crazy, constantly drink tea and fear the tyrannical Queen of Hearts (an amazingly voiced Wendi Peters). The show is one of self-discovery, as Alice learns that there is a hero inside of all of us and that we need to be our own ‘invention’ to crate ordinary magic. It’s also one of all-female power, accumulating in a show-stopping duet – a new song added for this production – “This is Who I Am”. Knowing their vocal talents and having seen both Michelle Pentecost (Alice) and Natalie McQueen (Hatter) both as Elphaba in Wicked you can imagine goosebump central was in full force!

I was surprised with how much they changed from Broadway, but it’s all for the better, it flows and feels more like a complete show now, not to mention the relevant British-ness added. Pentecost is perfect as Alice, maintaining rawness and a genuine loving for her daughter Ellie (star-in-the-making Naomi Morris). But there is no doubt the show belongs to Mad Hatter, Natalie McQueen. Stunningly beautiful, powerfully voiced and comic timing in buckets, McQueen commands the stage, and her big song I was looking forward to the most and she killed it – “I Will Prevail” will always be my favourite villain song, incredibly powerful! Her character (along with the Cheshire Cat (a hilarious Dominic Owen)) has undergone the most change since Broadway, and is less the main villain and more supporting hero. McQueen conveys a human quality to the crazy that works perfectly. I’m just in love with her, what can I say!

As for the visuals, granted it’s not the biggest budgeted tour so they didn’t wow me – McQueen’s Hatter was the best costume and the Looking Glass was a great addition – but other than that, not much to say, it was fine. But that didn’t matter, because for me (along with the cast) it’s the music that’s the star, maybe it helped knowing it already I don’t know, but every song is a winner, from the beautiful ‘Once More I Can See’ to the catchy tongue-in-cheek ‘One Knight’ to the winning Act One closer ‘Through the Looking Glass’. My 3rd favourite Wildhorn score (behind Jekyll & Hyde and Bonnie & Clyde), this man always knows how to impress; listen to the Broadway cast album and tell me different!

It’s such a shame this isn’t selling out, the matinee I attended was probably 45% full, which is such a shame, I for one cannot wait to make a second, of many more visits this year, to Wonderland – next time in May to see Kerry Ellis as Alice!!

I’ve given it my top Stagey rating of Obsessed: a Broadway muddle has been given clarity and meaning: you’ll be blown away by the music and you’ll learn some life lessons along the way! I’m going to go play the cast album on repeat now…

Wonderland tours the UK until the summer including stops in Wimbledon and Richmond. www.wonderlandthemusical.com

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