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New musical 'Wonderland' may return to Tampa for additional shows with tweaked book

Wonderland, the Frank Wildhorn musical that premiered in Tampa in December and then went on to play Houston, will likely have a new production next season. "There are about four different options,'' said Judy Lisi, president of the Straz Center of the Performing Arts, which produced the show and has its rights. "I should know what will happen in April. A lot of it has to do with theater availability. I have a lead producer, but I'm not ready to announce it.''

Basically, the options for the musical adapted from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are to play another regional theater or go to Broadway. There could be a return engagement at the Straz's Ferguson Hall.

At the box office, Wonderland did well, playing to more than 90 percent capacity at the Straz and Houston's Alley Theatre. The reviews were generally positive, except for problems with the show's book by Jack Murphy and director Gregory Boyd.

"We are going back to the book now,'' Lisi said. "Jack and Greg are working on the script changes. I think the show will be much clearer.''

On the last weekend of the musical's monthlong run at the Alley, the creative team got together for a meeting to assess possible changes that needed to be made. Here are some of them, as related by Lisi in a phone interview.

• Chloe, Alice's daughter who runs away to Wonderland, will become a chess prodigy.

• There will be greater contrast between Alice's real and dream worlds, with Sven Ortel's digital projections used only in Wonderland segments of the show. Traditional sets will be used for Alice's apartment and the opening soiree, which will be changed from a cocktail party to a tea party.

• The character of the Mad Hatter will change. "Now the epiphany is going to be that the Hatter is Alice's alter ego,'' Lisi said. "They're going to come up with a song and lyrics that express that.''

Janet Dacal got good notices as Alice in the musical, but her continued participation in the show, as well as that of the rest of the original cast, will not be known until the timing of a new production is worked out.

One option would be to have Wonderland return to Tampa, where the sets and costumes are stored in a warehouse, for a brief engagement before going to New York. "We left a lot of money on the table here,'' Lisi said. "I think certainly we could sell two weeks very well.''

Whatever happens with Wonderland, there will be a Frank Wildhorn musical in the Tampa Bay area next season. Bonnie & Clyde, which premiered last fall at the La Jolla Playhouse in Southern California, will have what is being billed as a pre-Broadway tryout to open the season of Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota in November.

"I think it's good for the Asolo, because people who saw Wonderland might go down there,'' Lisi said. "The shows are so different. If anything, it just shows Frank's diversity.''

Another Wildhorn musical, Havana, had been scheduled to premiere in June at the Pasadena Playhouse in California, but it was canceled when the theater closed because of financial difficulties. Lisi said playwright Nilo Cruz (Anna in the Tropics) is no longer writing the book for it.

Two chamber concerts

• The Arioso String Quartet plays Haydn's Seven Last Words at 7:30 tonight at St. Alfred's Episcopal Church, 1601 Curlew Road, Palm Harbor. The quartet members are all in the Florida Orchestra: Lei Liu, violin; Nancy Chang, violin; Karl Bawel, viola; and Lowell Adams, cello. Haydn composed the work for orchestra, and there is also a choral version, to be performed on Good Friday between meditations on Christ's last words on the cross. Arioso will be performing the reduction for string quartet with the St. Alfred Choir singing introductions to each movement. Free-will offering. (727) 785-1601;

• Encore, which enjoyed a big success with the premiere of The Voyage of Life by Mark Sforzini at its previous concert, has the final performance of the chamber music series at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg. On the agenda are works of Handel, J.S. Bach, Vernon Taranto, Poulenc and Beethoven. $20. (727) 822-3590;

Wheeldon in Sarasota

Christopher Wheeldon is one of the stars of contemporary choreography, and Sarasota Ballet will stage his There Where She Loved next weekend. Performed to music of Chopin and Kurt Weill, with a pianist and a soprano, it's a work Wheeldon made for London's Royal Ballet in 2000.

Wheeldon, 37, born in England, was resident choreographer for New York City Ballet from 2001 until 2008. Three years ago, he formed his own company, Morphoses, to high hopes in the ballet world, but last month he announced he was leaving the ensemble because it didn't have enough full-time dancers.

Incidentally, Wheeldon is choreographing a full-length Alice in Wonderland for the Royal Ballet, to premiere in February 2011.

The Sarasota Ballet program also includes John Cranko's Pineapple Poll, to music of Arthur Sullivan; and Renato Paroni's Rococo Variations, to Tchaikovsky. 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday at Sarasota Opera House. $20-$90. (941) 351-8000 or toll-free 1-800-361-8388;

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at

New musical 'Wonderland' may return to Tampa for additional shows with tweaked book 03/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 4:35pm]
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