TAMPA — "Welcome to Wonderland," said director Gregory Boyd, as he spoke to the actors and creative team of Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure, all assembled together for the first time at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
The company of more than 40 people, including a cast of 25, gathered in a rehearsal hall Monday to meet each other, hear presentations from Boyd and the costume and set designers and fill out paperwork so everyone gets a paycheck. They'll be spending the next few months at the center, which is producing the show for its Dec. 5 premiere and a monthlong run.
"This is a milestone, this is what we've been working for," said Frank Wildhorn, the musical's composer who has written pop hits for the likes of Whitney Houston and once had three shows running at the same time on Broadway: Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Civil War. "It's like a racehorse at the starting gate. We've all come here to give birth to something that we hope that people around the world will enjoy."
Wonderland has impressive talent:
• Choreographer Marguerite Derricks won three Emmy Awards and has credits for dance in productions such as the Austin Powers movies, a memorable Gap ad campaign and Cirque du Soleil's Zumanity.
• Costume designer Susan Hilferty won a Tony Award for Wicked. She's designing more than 100 costumes for Wonderland.
• Boyd is longtime artistic director of the prestigious Alley Theatre in Houston.
• Ron Melrose was music director of Jersey Boys and is doing the same with Wonderland.
• The cast includes high-profile Broadway performers such as Karen Mason playing the Queen of Hearts. Mason starred in the musicals Mamma Mia! and Sunset Boulevard and is a beloved cabaret singer.
Wonderland, with book and lyrics by Jack Murphy, is a contemporary spin on Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, but it also has elements of A Star Is Born in the casting of Janet Dacal in the title role.
"Janet is going to be a star, whether it's with this show or the next one she's in," Murphy said. "This is a major American star in the making."
Instead of a conventional ingenue for Alice, Dacal is a willowy young Cuban-American with frizzy red hair. She comes to the show from the cast of the Broadway production of the In the Heights, set in Manhattan's Latin barrio.
"I've been anticipating playing Alice for months, and now it feels very good to be here," said Dacal, who went to high school in Miami and got a broadcast journalism degree at Florida International University.
Wildhorn describes her as "a cross between Bernadette Peters, Lucille Ball and a female Donny Hathaway."
At $3 million, Wonderland is a high-stakes gamble for the center and its CEO, Judy Lisi, who first heard songs from Wildhorn's score in a workshop performance at the Broadway Theater Project, the summertime training program in Tampa.
John Fleming blogs on Critics Circle at blogs.tampabay.com/arts.