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Straz's 'Wonderland' is bound for Broadway

Cast members rehearse Wonderland for its Tampa premiere last December. A revised version will preview in Tampa before opening on Broadway.

Times file (2009)

Cast members rehearse Wonderland for its Tampa premiere last December. A revised version will preview in Tampa before opening on Broadway.

TAMPA — Wonderland is headed for Broadway.

The Frank Wildhorn musical, which was developed as part of the Broadway Genesis Project at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa and premiered there in December, announced Tuesday that it will open on Broadway on April 17.

It's only the second time a show that began in Tampa has gone on to Broadway.

"To be known in the performing arts world as a player brings credibility to your community, and it brings money to your community,'' said Martin Silbiger, chairman of the Straz Center board. "People take pride in seeing a show start out here and go to Broadway.''

Judy Lisi, president of the Straz Center, said problems with the musical's book that were evident during runs at the center and then at Houston's Alley Theatre have been fixed.

"The book has been, I think, masterfully redone,'' Lisi said. "The focus now is so fresh and clear and touching.'' Book authors Jack Murphy and Gregory Boyd, also the director, "took everything they learned from the production here and in Houston, and it really metamorphosed into something wonderful,'' she said.

Before its Broadway opening, Wonderland will return to the Straz Center for a two-week run of previews Jan. 4-16. Tickets go on sale in mid August. Then there will be almost a month of previews in New York.

Wildhorn's musical — whose new full title is Wonderland: A New Alice. A New Musical Adventure — is adapted from the Lewis Carroll classics Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. The Broadway production is expected to retain most of the principals from the original cast, including Janet Dacal as Alice, Karen Mason as the Queen of Hearts and Darren Ritchie as Jack. The creative team, including choreographer Marguerite Derricks, costume designer Susan Hilferty and set designer Neil Patel, remains intact.

William Franzblau is executive producer of Wonderland, which will be staged in a theater owned by the Nederlander Organization, Broadway's second-largest theater chain, with nine theaters. Nederlander executives were at a reading of the revised musical in New York in June. "The Nederlanders were extremely moved by it,'' Franzblau said. "It was something that everybody really wanted to make a deal on, so it went quickly.''

In the rewrite, Wonderland is more centered on Alice than it was in Tampa and Houston. "This is a story about a woman who is juggling her work life with her personal life and not doing all that well with either,'' said Franzblau, who saw the musical in Tampa. "I think the show has something that very few shows have, which is a theme that most people can relate to, and certainly almost all women can relate to. And women certainly are a producer's target audience.''

Lisi said there are two new songs in the show, and some of the subplots in the original book have been deleted. "Some of the confusing things about Chloe (Alice's daughter) leading Alice here and there clearly didn't work,'' she said. "The character of the Mad Hatter has changed. We now have a tea party, which we didn't have before. There's a big climactic ending now.''

The elaborate video and projection design by Sven Ortel will be limited to the section of the show when Alice is in Wonderland.

Franzblau's Broadway credits include Say Goodnight Gracie, which was nominated for a Tony Award and did well at the box office, and a starry revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo, which flopped. As "the point person to put the show together,'' the executive producer said, he is seeking investors for Wonderland, which has a budget of $14 million.

"It's dialing for dollars,'' said Franzblau, who is based in New York. "We have a big advantage over a lot of other shows because we have a bit of history, and it's a successful history in Tampa and Houston.'' He hopes to capitalize on local interest in the show by finding some of his investors in the Tampa Bay area and Houston.

Wonderland played to 92 percent of capacity during its six-week run in the Straz's 1,000-seat Ferguson Theater. It did similarly good business at the Alley in Houston.

"The one thing we knew from day one was that audiences loved it,'' Lisi said, acknowledging that the musical got some mixed reviews. "Audiences are very truthful. They tell you what they like and what they don't like.''

The production in Tampa and Houston cost $3.3 million to mount. "Everything is going to be a little bigger on Broadway'' said Lisi, one of the production's managing partners, along with Jimmy Nederlander Jr. and Nick Scandalios, both with the Nederlander Organization. "The set will be automated, which we didn't have here. There are some huge new stage effects. We didn't do any flying, because Houston didn't have fly space, and now we're going to do some flying.''

A good chunk of the budget will go for marketing. "Advertising alone, you're talking seven figures,'' Franzblau said.

Broadway's business has been holding up pretty well in the recession, with new shows from last season such as Memphis, the revival of Promises, Promises and American Idiot playing to strong attendance. In a recent week, nine productions, including long-running hits like Wicked and The Phantom of the Opera, all topped $1 million in ticket sales.

Next season, Wonderland is slated to join a field of new shows likely to include Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Catch Me If You Can; a revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.

Being the launching pad for a show that makes it to Broadway can represent a creative watershed for a community.

It happened once before in Tampa, when a musical about Teddy Roosevelt called Teddy & Alice opened the year the center (then Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center) opened, in 1987. The show went to Broadway but closed after just 77 performances.

Lisi thinks the center's experience with Wonderland has positioned it to become an incubator of more Broadway productions, but not every year. "One thing we've learned is that this is a two- to four-year process,'' she said. "We're going to do it in a way that we can take a show from the beginning and get it to the finish line, rather than try to churn out one a year.''

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts

'Wonderland' schedule

• Jan. 4-16: Previews in Tampa (Tickets go on sale Aug. 15.)

• March 21-April 16: Previews in New York (No ticket date has been announced.)

• April 17: Opening night

Photos online

To view a slide show of photos from the Tampa production of Wonderland go to links.tampabay.com.

Straz's 'Wonderland' is bound for Broadway 08/03/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 3, 2010 10:45pm]
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