A Wonderland by Eamonn Farrell (book/lyrics) and William Antoniou (music) (SoHo Think Tank/Ice Factory 2009, Ohio Theatre, New York - Directed by Eamonn Farrell. Runs until July 11, 2009)

Wonderland1-cr.jpgJanelle Lannan (center) as Alice and the cast of A Wonderland - Photographer: Eamonn Farrell

The musically induced "A Wonderland" takes Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" as its founding text, sending Alice, a failed actor and chanteuse relegated to the dreary life of a 34-year-old administrative assistant, on a druggy trip into the psyche of her failed dreams. "A Wonderland" is over-long and under-focused, but it has many many wonderful elements in it that, even though they don't add up to a satisfying whole, give a great deal of theatrical pleasure.
Anonymous Ensemble, which produced the work, is known for its "pan-medium projects," and "A Wonderland" mixes in live-camera feeds and pre-recorded video with Vegas-style ensemble dancing (sharply choreographed by David Scotchford) and a tight three-piece band (Sasha Brown, Shoheen Owhady, Raky Sastri), all supported by a tech crew that turns the boxy environs of the Ohio Theatre into an appropriate dreamscape (Lucrecia Briceno, lighting; Kumi Ishizawa and Ken Travis, sound).
But even "pan-medium projects" need a good hook, and this is where "A Wonderland" doesn't deliver. One problem, at least for me, is that Farrell and Antoniou make the songs carry the narrative burden, and while all the singers were articulate and crisp in their deliveries, it was impossible to catch all of what one needed to catch to make sense of the story's progression. This also made the songs seem to go on far longer than needed, which stopped narrative forward-motion cold.
As a piece of musical theatre, "A Wonderland" wants to have the same campiness as "Hedwig," but the characters come off more like the poseurs in "Hair" -- the Mad Hatter (Josh Hoglund) as a floppy-hatted motor-mouthed drug dealer had "dated" stamped all over it, as did his "tribe" of March Hare (Cory Antiel), Dormouse (Liz Davito), and The Duchess (Meghan Williams), and the notion of drugs inducing spiritual revelation died a well-deserved death long ago. The reason it doesn't have "Hedwig's" coolness is that "A Wonderland" tries too hard -- it foregoes the light touch that camp requires for the over-gestured mannerism and the over-decibeled in-your-face. And, most important, "Hedwig" had a heart in the character of Hedwig, who gave an emotional anchor to all the outrageousness. There is no matching character in "A Wonderland."
The creators of "A Wonderland," though, have come up with some really inventive and clever theatricalities that inject some effervescence into the proceedings: the Red Queen (Jessica Weinstein), comes in on stilts, a tall crown making her even more elongated and imperial; the Caterpillar is five glow-in-the-dark Hoberman spheres, expanded and contracted by five performers in black clothes as it wriggles across the stage; and the Cheshire Cat is Kiebpoli Calnek doing aerial corde lisse as she floats above the questioning and questing Alice.
Janelle Lannan, playing Alice, has a supple and vibrant voice and a self-assured presence that is just a pure pleasure to listen to and watch, especially in what is probably the best song in the whole show, "The One." Matt Mager, as Blanche duBunny, struts his transvestite self across the stage with a cocksure half-smile, and Liz Davito, as the loopy and possibly perpetually drunk/stoned Dormouse, not only plays a mean guitar and violin but keeps the comic temperature rising with her excellent timing. And watch for the dancers, who manage to live large within their tight muscled choreography: Theresa Coombe-Mannino, Simone De La Rue, JD Smith, and Billy Tighe.

Michael Bettencourt