altB’s Melanie Whitehead went to check out multi Grammy and Drama Desk Award nominated Frank Wildhorn’s Wonderland at the Blackpool Winter Gardens on Wednesday. Starring Wendi Peters, much loved for her acclaimed portrayal of Cilla Battersby-Brown in Coronation Street, as Queen of Hearts alongside musical theatre favourite Dave Willetts, who has previously starred in tours of South Pacific, 42nd Street and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, as White Rabbit. Along with Wendi and Dave, Rachael Wooding stars as Alice in the 2017 UK tour of Wonderland. Read on to see what Melanie thought when she took a trip down the rabbit hole.
A lifelong fan of Alice in Wonderland, it has been a real treat over the last few years to see so many different shows taking inspiration from the marvellous mayhem of Lewis Carroll’s worlds. The larger-than-life characters and strange pockets of narrative are ripe for picking and choosing and new musical Wonderland which plays at Blackpool Winter Gardens until this Saturday, does this with great flair and razzamatazz.
After being introduced to the initial grim set up of 40-year old divorcee Alice, recently fired and taking advice from her old-before-her-time young daughter, the tower block lift doors open and concentric circles of light take us down the rabbit hole to Wonderland. Here we meet much-loved characters including the white rabbit, played with warmth and generosity by musicals stalwart David Willetts and Queen of Hearts played by Corrie favourite Wendi Peters.
The somewhat bizarre choice to have Tweedledum and Tweedledee as svelte and lithe can be overlooked, but the replacement of the languid, liquid, broad-smiling Cheshire cat with manic, hyper-activity was nothing short of constant irritation. However the brilliant and quirky Mad Hatter presented beautifully by Natalie McQueen brings redemption quickly, even if the lengths of licence taken with this character bears little justification. Carroll’s original stories and roles have more than enough phenomenal material to play with and the changes felt unwarranted. The second-half duet ‘This is Who I Am’ sung with Alice just about balances the annoyance.
The score is massive; big numbers belted out by a vocally robust cast and an eight-strong live orchestra, which is rare in shows this big these days. It’s a choice for which the producers are to be applauded. There is a glorious range of musical styles that take us through different moods and settings from the creamy jazz notes of the philosophical caterpillar to high energy and “swoonsome” boyband poppiness when Jack (the love interest) finds his inner hero.
Ms Peters deserves special mention for her pitch-perfect numbers and gloriously hammed-up stage presence, it was a shame we don’t get to see more of her as she delivers two major numbers and spends the rest of the show in her dressing room.
The rock-concert style lighting and brilliant array of bright and bonkers costumes ensure that this show is a visual treat: The tea table turning into a light up catwalk is magnificent and the initial arrival of the magical mirror through which one can walk and become ‘the real you’ is presented so cleverly that at times it looks like there’s actually mystical glass there. However, most of the stage magic has been thrown at the first act and it is slightly disappointing in that very little new set or scenery is seen in the second half, so the unrealised expectations of a big wondrous finale felt like an insult when it didn’t arrive.
If you enjoy your musicals with more punch than plot, and you want a night out for all the family that feels like being smashed repeatedly in the face with a rainbow-coloured candy floss, then you should definitely go and see Wonderland. The show plays at Blackpool Winter Gardens until Saturday 15 April 2017. Tickets start at £17.50 (although there are some deals floating about too) and can be bought here or in person at the Box Office.
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