Venture down the rabbit hole and meet a modern-day Alice when a new musical brings Wonderland to Sunderland.
Famed Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn has taken the classic tale, given it a twist, and transported it to the musical stage for a brand new show.
Wonderland will have its European premiere in Edinburgh in January before it heads to Wearside bringing new life to Alice, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts and Lewis Carroll’s other wacky characters.
What should we expect from the show? The exact plot just gets curiouser and curiouser as the cast and creative team remain hush hush about the finer details. But a press event in Manchester gave us a teaser of this adaptation of books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
American Frank was in the city for a Frank Wildhorn & Friends concert at the Palace Theatre, which featured tracks from the music man’s illustrious back catalogue including Broadway shows Bonny & Clyde, Jekyll & Hyde and the Scarlet Pimpernel.
Among the performers on the night was former Coronation Street star Wendi Peters who’ll be Wonderland’s lady in red as the Queen of Hearts, Natalie McQueen who will be a the Mad Hatter, stage stalwart Dave Willetts as White Rabbit and Stephen Webb as the White Knight, who gave a taste of the music we can expect from Wonderland.
Composer Frank says, like so many, he first became enchanted with the wondrous world of Wonderland as a child. “I think I’ve always been in love with the Queen of Hearts since I was a kid,” he explained.
Though Wonderland had always been with him, it was when his two sons were growing up that it took on a musical meaning.
He explained: “In the late ‘90s I had three shows on Broadway and was living on the Upper West Side in a high rise building. We lived on the 47th floor but the elevator in the building was always broken.
“I ran out of stories to tell my two boys about why they didn’t fix the elevator, so I told them that it went all the way down to Wonderland. That was the germ of the idea for the musical.”
Though an earlier version of the show has played in America and Tokyo, the creative team say this new version will be quintessentially English and will celebrate the unique eccentricities of Carroll’s brilliantly bonkers imagination.
“It’s not a revival, it’s a brand new event, and we hope communities take the story as their own. We want people to come along to the shows dressed as their favourite characters,” explained Frank who, as well as writing for musicals, has penned pop hits including Whitney Houston’s Where Do Broken Hearts Go?
The Sunderland date of Wonderland will see West End and Broadway star Kerry Ellis, best-known for playing Elphaba in Wicked, step into Alice’s inquisitive shoes.
So who is this Alice?
All we know so far is that we meet Alice as a woman who now has a curious little girl of her own. Together, they go on a huge adventure to Wonderland where they meet the familiar characters from older Alice’s childhood.
Frank said: “It starts with the idea of the child within us all. As we get older we forget about that child, but there is Wonderland in all of us. It’s important that we don’t lose that child. As Alice goes on the adventure to find her daughter she finds the child within herself too.”
Actress Wendi Peters says it’s great to start a role with a blank canvas and get the opportunity to colour in the character yourself. “My job as an actress is to be creative,” said Wendi who played Cilla in Coronation Street. “I don’t like to do something for too long. Coronation Street was the longest job I did, for four years. I love the process of reading something on a page and having nothing to copy. With this show, there’s nothing other than a couple of clips from Tony Awards for us to look at.
“Songs that tell a story are a dream for an actor as they have a beginning, middle and an end, and I fell in love with this score as soon as I heard it. It’s so quirky and witty.”
•Wonderland plays Sunderland Empire from January 30 to February 4. Tickets available from 0844 871 3022 or online at www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.