This show, which ran a month on Broadway back in 2011, is apparently being attempted again in London, but I’m fairly certain that no amount of revision is going to turn it into a success. For one thing, the same thing…an adult-themed, psychological retelling of Lewis Carroll…had already been done in a far better and more interesting fashion by Tom Waits in his musical Alice. But then, Waits was genuinely interested in the psychological implications of Carroll’s work, while Wildhorn was clearly just looking for a way to rip off Wicked the same way he ripped off Phantom of the Opera with Dracula. The result was one of the most annoying shows of recent times.
Like the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movie, the creators of this musical turned Carroll’s surreal dreamworld into a convoluted but conventional fantasy plot. But at least Burton knew how to keep a consistent tone and style for his work; this show veers wildly between musical-comedy zaniness and failed attempts at profound seriousness. The book is largely a collection of deadpan, cynical one-liners that don’t fit in with Carroll’s tone in the slightest, and the show is often downright pretentious in its pop-psychological self-help mantras.
Wildhorn would write an excellent score for the Bonnie and Clyde musical the year after, but this score is his weakest to date. There are a few good tunes, particularly the boy-band ballad “One Knight”, the villain song “I Will Prevail”, and the closing ballad “Finding Wonderland”. But most of the score is frenetic and annoying, as in the chaotic “Welcome to Wonderland”, or the irritating Latin rhythm number “Go With the Flow”, or the embarrassing would-be showstopper “Off With Their Heads”. Wildhorn and his collaborators clearly didn’t have the wit or creativity to make Wonderland genuinely insane, so they just approximated zaniness the easy way by making it hyperactive. This might actually beat out Elizabeth Swados’ Alice in Concert as the all-time worst musical based on this material.