'Wonderland,' which started at the Straz, closes on Broadway Sunday

Janet Dacal plays Alice, a modern-day New Yorker who takes an elevator to a subterranean fantasy world. It closes Sunday.

Photo by Paul Kolnik

Janet Dacal plays Alice, a modern-day New Yorker who takes an elevator to a subterranean fantasy world. It closes Sunday.

Alice's journey down the rabbit hole to Broadway is over. Producers announced Tuesday that Wonderland, the Frank Wildhorn musical that got its start in Tampa, will close on Sunday. It will have played 31 previews and 33 performances at the Marquis Theatre.

"While audiences loved the show and gave it standing ovations each night, it was difficult to sustain with declining ticket sales in a busier-than-normal spring season on Broadway," said Judy Lisi, chief executive of the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, which developed the musical through its Broadway Genesis Project and was lead producer. "The show got off to a strong start, but recent ticket sales had decreased and it became clear we could not continue."

In the week ending Sunday, Wonderland had gross ticket sales of $511,446, or 68 percent of capacity at the Marquis, not enough to cover weekly operating costs.

Wonderland never recovered from the negative reviews that greeted its April 17 opening on Broadway. The death knell came last week when it didn't receive any Tony Award nominations.

The show's biggest problem was the incoherent book by director Gregory Boyd and lyricist Jack Murphy. Portraying Alice (played by Janet Dacal) as a modern-day New Yorker who takes an elevator down to a subterranean fantasy world, it went through countless rewrites during two pre-Broadway productions in Tampa and one in Houston.

In New York, director Scott Ellis and playwright Rupert Holmes were brought in as uncredited "script doctors," to little avail. With each revision, what had begun as a promising pop-rock musical in its December 2009 premiere at the Straz got worse.

With an estimated budget of $16 million, Wonderland seemed to have a lot going for it. As a contemporary take on Lewis Carroll's iconic books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, it was seen as a strong audience draw. The cast — many with the show since an Actors Equity reading of it in New York two years ago — was first-rate, and the creative team included top-flight talent such as costume designer Susan Hilferty and set designer Neil Patel. A cast album was released last week.

Certainly, Wildhorn's reputation — never high with critics — takes a big hit, as many reviews singled him out for scorn. His previous Broadway show, Dracula, also closed quickly. Bonnie and Clyde, his musical that had a successful staging in the fall at the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, was aimed for Broadway, but that could be in doubt now.

Despite Wonderland's flop, Lisi tried to put a positive spin on Tuesday's announcement in a news release, saying that the production had an $8 million economic impact on the Tampa Bay area. The Straz and theater suppliers in West Florida, such as the Asolo's scene shop, which built a lot of the set, got high marks for their capability to handle a Broadway tryout. Lisi said other producers have asked about using the center.

A group of Tampa Bay area investors in Wonderland learned what a risky business Broadway can be. The Knights of Tampa Bay, organized by Hinks Shimberg and David Scher, both trustees of the Straz, raised more than $3 million from about 35 investors for the production.

All may not be lost. According to the release, there will be a future for Wonderland with a national tour, as well as national and international licensing.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716.

'Wonderland,' which started at the Straz, closes on Broadway Sunday 05/10/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 11, 2011 7:27pm]

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