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Amy Scherzer's Diary goes to New York

'Wonderland' fans party amid critics' pans in New York

NEW YORK

The nerve-racking ritual — awaiting make-it or break-it theatrical reviews — didn't deter cast and crew, producers and playwrights from celebrating Wonderland on its opening night.

As you may know by now, the musical production based on Lewis Carroll's beloved Alice in Wonderland, opened Sunday on Broadway, having premiered in 2009 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

In a substantial show of support last weekend, a cadre of the show's local investors, plus dozens of Straz Center board members and staff members, flew to New York. They'd all seen Wonderland before, but not at the Marquis Theatre in Times Square, home to such hits as La Cage Aux Folles and Gypsy.

After leading the standing ovation, the Tampa crowd joined 1,200 other audience members in a huge ballroom three floors up. Among them, investors David and Sara Scher and a slew of relatives, and Straz Center chairman of the board Martin Silbiger and his wife, Ruth.

The gala banquet menu: unfettered enthusiasm mixed with anxiety and smothered in homegrown pride.

It was reminiscent of a scene from Sardi's or Elaine's — the iconic restaurants where actors and producers went to wait for the first copies of the New York Times.

But these days, there's no waiting for printed reviews to see the dream delivered … or dashed.

Smart phones and iPads brought online postings within minutes of the final curtain call.

And champagne wasn't popping.

The critics were shockingly harsh.

Less-than-stellar reviews came in from the New York Times, Village Voice and Variety, as well as the St. Petersburg Times — some calling the story line convoluted or confusing, others saying Wonderland lacked "wonder."

Board member and Broadway Genesis Project committee member Barry Levine, who sported his enthusiasm with his wife, Gina d'Angelo, and daughter Alexa d'Angelo in matching White Rabbit top hats, stepped out to the foyer to Google the reviews. Later, at his time-share condo, he read until past midnight, finding no surprises.

"The critics have never been in love with this creative team," Levine said. "But this is a completely different type of show. Sony would not have bought the musical rights if they thought it was going to be a flop. There are no new Broadway shows out there right now like it."

Investor and former Straz Center board chairman Hinks Shimberg shrugged off the naysayers, delighted with the buzz of social media.

"We know it's an audiences' show," he said, even if it's not a critic's cup of tea." He cited blockbusters Wicked and Mama Mia!, which opened to bad press.

"Reviews are not nearly as important as they once were,'' he continued. "Facebook and blogs were remarkably great."

Investors Toni Everett and Catherine Straz chose to just enjoy seeing their Tampa baby walk on Broadway. Being part of the team that conceived and nurtured Wonderland kept them almost maternally upbeat.

"I'm so pleased with the way it has matured," said Straz, who arrived with husband, David, University of Tampa president Ron Vaughn and his wife, Renee, and Berkeley Prep drama teachers Kathi Grau and Bruce LeBaron. "It's superb fun."

Other faces in the crowd included Don and Jan DeFosset, Monroe and Suzette Berkman, Pam and Les Muma, Mike and Karen Urette, and Kiran and Pallavi Patel.

Many soon would fly back to the Tampa Bay area where Wonderland began its journey.

But that night, surrounded by gleaming silver chafing dishes and a clever Mad Hatter tea party dessert bar, they basked in the Broadway spotlight.

Reach Amy Scherzer at scherzer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3332.

'Wonderland' fans party amid critics' pans in New York 04/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 21, 2011 5:30am]
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