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Given the success of the re-telling of the Oz story in Wicked, it's surprising that it's taken so long for a fresh take on Alice in Wonderland to make it to Broadway. Wonderland, with music by Frank Wildhorn and lyrics by Jack Murphy, opened on Broadway this past weekend (17 April 2011), and the Original Broadway Cast Recording will be released by Masterworks Broadway on 03 May.
Wildhorn, no stranger to Broadway with shows such as Jekyll & Hyde, Dracula, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War, and Murphy have teamed up with Gregory Boyd to tell the story of Alice Cornwinkle, a fantasy author, with a failed marriage, a failing relationship with daughter Chloe and a writing career which is suffering from a lack of imagination. After yet another argument, she falls asleep on her daughter's bed, surrounded by Chloe's Alice in Wonderland toys, and the adventure begins.
The plot, more Wiz than Wicked, may seem familiar - indeed, Alice teams up with a trio of characters that are too close for comfort to the Oz story, which gets a nod in the lyrics early doors. The ending, where she discovers that the child she has been searching for is in fact, herself, is also not the best kept secret in the show, and leaves you with the feeling that you've been here before.
Unfortunately, this is true of much of the music. As is usual with Wildhorn's shows, this isn't the first cast recording to be made available. The 2009 'out-of-town tryout' in Florida was also recorded, and is available on Download from iTunes. Other shows of Wildhorn's have had many incarnations before reaching Broadway (and earning a definitive Broadway Cast album - although The Scarlet Pimpernel actually had two such releases), and you can't help feeling that Wonderland also needs more work. The majority of the songs don't really go anywhere, don't have much to say and don't really progress the story in any shape or form. Listening to the Florida recording, it's hard to see where progress has been made.
That's not saying it's a bad score. The later half of the score has some decent numbers. 'Once More I Can See' is a typical Wildhorn ballad, handled well by Janet Dacal as Alice. Dacal was previously on Broadway in the latin and rap-infused smash In The Heights, and it's great to hear her singing ballads and story songs here. Surprisingly, it's not a ballad-heavy score. Indeed, I got tired of counting the number of different musical styles incorporated in Wonderland - sometimes, you feel, for the sake of it.
Certain pastiches work well. 'One Knight', sung by White Knight Darren Ritchie (and his band of fellow Knights) could be the next Boy Band hit. Unfortunately others fall somewhat short. 'Through The Looking Glass' has echoes of Wicked (hmm, Oz again...), as does 'I am My own Invention', a Dacal & Ritchie duet. 'Off With Their Heads' allows Broadway safe-bet Karen Mason chance to shine in one of the better 'baddy' numbers for a long time. 'I Will Prevail' is handled well by long-time Wildhorn favourite Kate Shindle as The Mad Hatter. Even this, however, tends to sounds, in places, like a poor Tina Turner reject song.
Given its recent Broadway reviews, this is a show that may disappear down its own rabbit hole before too long, and it will be interesting to see if the score survives, or has yet another rewrite prior to another production or recording.
The production values on the album are high. Special mention must go to Kim Scharnberg, who's orchestrations bring this score to life, as they did for Jekyll and Hyde and most things in between. And it's because of this, more than the writing I think, that the ballads come out as my favourites on this recording. Dacal will always be compared to Linda Eder on recordings of this genre, as her name will always be synonymous with Wildhorn, and whilst Dacal isn't really in the same vocal class, she delivers her numbers with greater feeling than Wildhorn's previous leading ladies.
Stand-out tracks are 'Finding Wonderland' and 'Home', the later of which is also, incidentally, the title of my favourite number from The Wiz... curiouser and curiouser.