The Wonderland original Broadway cast recording, out this week, is a revealing document of the many rewrites that the Tampa-spawned Frank Wildhorn musical has gone through.
Strangely, the recording doesn't include the show's opening number, Worst Day of My Life, which was originally meant to be a defining statement for Alice (Janet Dacal) as a harried New Yorker and modern-day Alice in Wonderland. Though a version of the song is still in the show, it's now performed by Alice's daughter, Chloe (Carly Rose Sonenclar), with mom joining in about halfway through. It's no longer the uptempo rocker it was in two productions in Tampa and one in Houston on the road to last month's Broadway opening.
The omission of Worst Day of My Life is not the only oddity of the album, which does include Heroes, a ballad cut in previews. Home, a sweet little melody now performed by Alice in the stage production, is sung by Chloe on the album, where it comes right after the overture. On stage it isn't heard until near the end of Act 1. Fans expecting a replica of the show will be disappointed.
All the changes made to Wonderland must have taken a toll on the cast, which seemed to have lost its verve when the musical finally landed on Broadway. From its promising beginning in a New York reading about two years ago, and the initial Tampa staging in December 2009, this is a show that got worse with each successive rewrite. Wildhorn and his principal collaborators — director Gregory Boyd and lyricist Jack Murphy, both credited for the book — failed to come up with a persuasive story.
The chief casualty is Dacal's Alice, who makes a rather faint impression in the recording, a reflection of her scaled-back role. Her first solo doesn't come until track 12, and it's a reprise of Chloe's Home. This musical needed a brilliant Alice, and Dacal, an appealing young Cuban-American redhead, is never more than adequate. Several numbers that featured her were cut. Only her Once More I Can See really soars.
Wildhorn has a knack for pop hooks, and the cast album, which he produced, still has a collection of catchy songs, such as Go With the Flow, featuring Jose Llana as a Latino Cheshire Cat, and a pair of boy-band numbers led by Darren Ritchie. Kate Shindle, as the Mad Hatter, kicks out the jams in I Will Prevail, while E. Clayton Cornelious' jazzy Advice From a Caterpillar is a highlight. Karen Mason's Queen of Hearts has a fun vaudeville turn in Off With Their Heads, but her campy style loses something on disc.
I have always enjoyed the Wonderland score, and the cast is talented, but things went wrong during the endless, pointless revisions. It's too bad, because the show had potential. Tellingly, the concept recording that Wildhorn put together almost two years ago had fresher performances than the ones on this original Broadway cast album.
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It looks like Wonderland producers could have tough decisions to make about keeping the show open. It was shut out of Tony Award nominations, and heavily discounted ticket sales last week were down more than 35 percent from the previous week, to $569,842, or 74 percent of capacity at the Marquis Theatre. That's probably around the break-even point for weekly operating costs of the show.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.