With bad reviews, 'Wonderland' takes a tumble through the looking glass

The Tampa born musical Wonderland took a tumble through the looking glass during its Broadway debut Sunday in New York.

The reviews, which began appearing online early Monday morning, were pretty harsh, calling it "the worst kind of nonsense." Then there was this New York Post headline: "Alice is lost in Blunderland."

Ouch.

Not good for a show conceived with the sole purpose of winning over New York.

But how important are critics' opinions? Scathing reviews for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark sent it on hiatus for an overhaul. But shows have been known to overcome unhappy reviews. Exhibit A is the blockbuster Wicked.

Aside from scoring a Tony Award, what could turn the tide for Wonderland? Local investor Hinks Shimberg is counting on the audience.

"We feel very optimistic since the audiences love the show. We feel very good that they will keep coming in larger and larger numbers," Shimberg said Monday. "We are planning for a long run."

That sentiment is echoed by the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, which developed and premiered the $16 million show.

"We're in good company with Cats, Wicked and Mamma Mia!" said Judy Lisi, president and CEO of the Straz. "The New York Times says Wonderland is 'peppily inspirational,' so we are very happy with that and the incredible audience response and strong ticket sales."

Times performing arts critic John Fleming, who attended the premiere in New York, also gave the show a less than glowing review and compared it with the version that started in Tampa.

"Eventually, a lot of the elements familiar to veteran Wonderland watchers turn up again in this latest incarnation, but [Frank] Wildhorn and his collaborators — director Gregory Boyd and lyricist Jack Murphy, both credited with the book — have failed to bring coherence to the story."

His comments were amplified by the New York media. Here are some excerpts.

Variety: "There is a distinct lack of wonder in Wonderland. . . . Unless one was to wonder how a big, Broadway musical based on Lewis Carroll's wildly inventive and delectably fantastical characters can be so utterly devoid of the aforementioned elements. Or to wonder why — after a full-scale 2009 presentation in Tampa Bay and Houston — the producers saw fit to remount this less-than-scintillating, $15 million tuner on Broadway."

New York Times: "The desire to create a traditional narrative arc from the unruly dreamscape of Carroll's original results in a convoluted story line pitting the good guys against the bad."

New York magazine: "What's been spent here, in talent and treasure? How many excellent performers were tied up in this strange, sloppy enterprise? How much life force, in total, has this show subtracted from the world? Wonderland is the worst kind of nonsense, the sort that attempts little and achieves less."

Associated Press: "The book . . . is a jumble of competing ideas thrown on stage in desperate hope that something will stick."

New York Post: "Who is a musical about a grown-up Alice for? This show clearly casts a wide net, but it also takes family-friendliness as a license to be simplistic. Come on, Wonderland, test us — we're smarter than you think."

New York Daily News: "Where's the wonder?"

The Village Voice: "I liked it better when it was called The Wiz."

Not all the reviews were entirely negative though. Consider this one.

Bloomberg News: "Alice is grown up in Wonderland, a hummable, cheerful Broadway fairy tale best suited to kids and their parents. . . . The cast is appealing, the costumes and choreography are inventive and the score, by Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy, is easy on the ears."

Times staff writers Amy Scherzer and John Fleming contributed to this report.

With bad reviews, 'Wonderland' takes a tumble through the looking glass 04/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 2:22am]

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