Jack (Stephen Webb) and Alice (Kerry Ellis) in 'Wonderland' | Photo credit: Paul Coltas
The main producer for this UK tour of Wonderland is Neil Eckersley, who has developed a reputation for not paying his actors and crew members, at least not on time. Victims of his non-payment arrangements include John Owen-Jones, Gareth Gates and Scott Garnham; this latest venture will hopefully see the likes of Kerry Ellis and Rachael Wooding, starring as Alice in different venues across the country, get properly remunerated for their services. I am extremely sceptical, given Eckersley’s chequered history. He is producing this production in his own name, and not under that of the trading name the previous pay dispute was under, Speckulation Entertainment, which used to have Paul Spicer as its artistic director, before he went on to pastures new. I place no blame on Spicer, for he jumped ship before the troubles as Speckulation started, but he might well have known what was going on, and, I assume, took flight wanting nothing to do with it.
Anyway, a young musical director, Alex Parker, leads an eight-piece band, assisted by the even younger Nick Barstow; the pair already have a significant amount of experience between them, and I assume this is the same for the rest of the band too, judging by their skill and professionalism here. The set (Andrew Riley) is occasionally impressive, especially for a touring set, while Frank Wildhorn’s music is distinctly American, despite the British actors and British accents. This UK tour production is already infinitely more successful than the Broadway production of 2011, the latter managing only 31 previews and 33 performances.
The book (Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy) has been further adapted for this production by Robert Hudson. One of the major characters has been renamed from Chloe in the Broadway production to Ellie (Naomi Morris); the transformation from sympathetic loving daughter to stroppy and sharp-tongued no-nonsense teenager is sudden. Alice Stetson (Kerry Ellis), Ellie’s mother, is caught unawares twice over as Jack (Stephen Webb) transforms from a slightly nervous and shy man with a job at the local council into the leader of a boy band, with swagger and confidence to match. Quite how and why this happens would be giving too much away, suffice to say I couldn’t help thinking of Stars in Their Eyes – mostly because Matthew Kelly was sat in the row in front of mine, this being press night and all that.
This is an adaptation of both Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). There are, therefore, a lot of characters to get through, including the gregarious Cheshire Cat (Dominic Owen), the Dormouse (Divine Cresswell), a Caterpillar (a most likeable Kayi Ushe), March Hare (Ben Kerr), and Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee (Benjamin McMillan and Benjamin Yates). Much of the first half is thus taken up with introducing character after character. Nine songs in, it’s still doing so, with ‘Hail The Queen’ finally seeing the grand entrance of the Queen of Hearts (Wendi Peters), and it’s another nine songs, well past the interval, before she explains what she really means by periodically repeating the line ‘Off With Their Heads’.
It is only in the second half, then, that the show really starts to take on the feel of a musical, though the Act One closing number, ‘Through The Looking Glass’, is a suitable big full company tune to send the audience out to the bars and toilets with. The characters, while all present, are not all ‘correct’, insofar as their portrayals significantly diverge from the Carroll originals. In fact, the whole thing is incongruent with the Carroll originals. There are too many characters that are not developed properly and, frankly, could have been dispensed with.
For all the changes, there seems to have been a missed opportunity with the story’s ending. Everything comes up roses, to misquote Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy, and possessed with a fresh perspective on life in the real world, Alice, Jack and Ellie go on to lead presumably successful lives. Of the supporting roles, White Rabbit (Dave Willetts) is worthy of mention, as is Mad Hatter (Natalie McQueen), the former charming and affable, the latter somehow maintaining a degree of likeability even as delusions of grandeur take precedence over civility. Quite a cluttered production, then, and one without memorable tunes and lyrics, but a serviceable evening out nonetheless. Just about.
This blog post was edited on 17 May 2017 to correct the adaptor's name. The original post attributed the adaptation of this production to Ava Eldred; it was actually adapted by Robert Hudson. Apologies to both parties.
Until 6 May 2017 New Wimbledon Theatre
0844 871 7646
8-13 May 2017 Bristol Hippodrome
0844 871 3012
16-20 May 2017 His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
01224 641 122
23-27 May 2017 Marina Theatre, Lowestoft
30 May-4 June 2017 Theatre Royal Brighton
0844 871 7650
6-10 June 2017 Torquay Princess Theatre
0844 871 3023
12-17 June 2017 Liverpool Empire
0844 871 3017
19-24 June 2017 Dublin Bord Gais Energy Theatre
0844 847 2455
26 June-1 July 2017 Llandudno Venue Cymru
01492 872 000
3-8 July 2017 King’s Theatre Glasgow
0844 871 7648
10-15 July 2017 Stoke Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649
17-22 July 2017 Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652
24-29 July 2017 Swansea Grand Theatre
01792 475 715
31 July-5 August 2017 Wolverhampton Grand Theatre
01902 429 212
7-12 August 2017 Richmond Theatre, Surrey
0844 871 7651
15-19 August 2017 Bournemouth Pavilion Theatre
0844 576 3000
Kerry Ellis will guest star as Alice in the following venues: Wimbledon, Bristol, Brighton, Liverpool, Stoke, Milton Keynes, Bournemouth.
Rachael Wooding will guest star as Alice in the following venues: Aberdeen, Lowestoft, Torquay, Llandudno, Glasgow, Swansea, Wolverhampton, Richmond.
Subject to illness or injury, Kerry and Rachael are scheduled to perform at all evening performances in these venues.
Kerry will additionally perform both matinées in Wimbledon.
The role of Alice for all other venues is yet to be announced.
The appearance of any particular artist cannot be guaranteed.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.