BYU Theatre Workshops Frank Wildhorn Musical ‘Wonderland’ in Preparation for de Jong Production
The contemporary adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” encourages audiences to dream big and reconnect with their inner child
BYU theatre will start a new semester of performances with a whimsical bang when “Wonderland” opens in the de Jong Concert Hall on Jan. 24. The production continues the university’s partnership with composer Frank Wildhorn, who previously worked with BYU and the Music Dance Theatre (MDT) program to premiere “The Count of Monte Cristo” in 2015.
In this “untelling of ‘Alice in Wonderland,’” as Wildhorn calls it, Alice is an adult in modern New York City struggling with a failing marriage and writing career. The stories and experiences of her childhood are brought to the surface when she sees her own young daughter journey down the rabbit hole with the White Rabbit, prompting Alice to follow them to Wonderland to bring her daughter back.
Wildhorn is one of only two composers to have had three shows running simultaneously on Broadway—“Jekyll and Hyde,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “The Civil War”—and his musicals have long been staples for Utah audiences. “Wonderland,” which features music by Wildhorn and lyrics by Jack Murphy, premiered on Broadway in 2011. Though the musical draws upon some elements of Lewis Carroll’s beloved classics “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” the adaptation seeks to breathe fresh life into the zany tale, a task embraced by BYU’s young cast.
“Most of the cast members are freshmen, and they have so much energy, sometimes it’s unthinkable,” said dramaturg Richelle Sutton. “The show is enlivened by what they bring—they make it so much more fun and so much more energetic.”
As a result of Wildhorn’s relationship with BYU, the theatre department has the unique opportunity to collaborate with the composer to workshop the show’s script as part of the rehearsal process, requiring the cast to continually keep track of line and scene changes and allowing them to bring their unique touch to the production.
“It’s been interesting working with a script where we have a lot of flexibility that most shows don’t get,” said Krista Saltmarsh, who plays Alice. “It’s been fun to be able to add our own flair and ideas to it, but it has been tricky to make sure we keep in line with the story and the message of the show.”
“The whole process of ‘Wonderland’ has been very imaginative,” added dance captain and ensemble member Calee Gardner. “It’s been very open to creative choice, and it’s been collaborative. I’ve loved working with lots of different choreographers and seeing how everyone gives their own spice or flavor. That’s really what ‘Wonderland’ is—it’s a meshing of lots of different styles of music, the characters are each very unique, and these different aspects of the storytelling come together to create an exciting, diverse show.”
The variety in the show’s music and dance offers a fitting tribute to the tone and spirit of the source material. The BYU theatre department and the MDT program in particular teamed up with multiple choreographers, including visiting New York choreographer Nick Palmquist, to bring the scenes and characters to life and showcase Wildhorn’s music, which includes R&B, rock and pop, among other genres.
“Lewis Carroll’s famed Alice stories create a dreamscape where ‘anything goes’ seems to be the only constant,” explained director Tim Threlfall in his notes for the BYU production. “After 150 years, literary aficionados still do not agree on what the author intended his eclectic dreamland to mean. However, most agree the text captures the random and crazily jumbled nature of human dreams better than any other work of fiction. In keeping with the randomness of the dreamscape, Frank Wildhorn’s ‘Wonderland’ features an incredibly tuneful pop-rock score that includes a nod to several music genres. Each song is as unique as the character that performs it, and the dancing the songs inspire is equally multiform.”
Though the music, dance and spectacle of the costumes and design provide much of the initial draw for “Wonderland” audiences, at the heart of it all is the story of a woman working to regain peace and balance in her life. “The story is what is really important to me with this production,” said Gardner. “It’s a story about a family being reunited, about finding your childhood again.”
“Alice goes on a quest to find her daughter, but she’s also trying to find her inner child,” added Sutton. “The whole story centers around this idea of finding your inner child and not letting the craziness of our reality interfere with who we really are inside. When we’re able to tap into the zany things that make us who we are, our lives become much better.”
Sutton believes that this message will strike a chord with BYU audiences. “The show is very much centered on this audience—people who might be just starting a family or may have a small family, and their lives are kind of crazy. College is crazy,” she said. “Sometimes we move too fast in life, and we need to stop and rediscover ourselves.”
Frank Wildhorn will be in attendance when “Wonderland” opens on Jan. 24. Following the performance, he will hold a meet and greet for audience members in the HFAC.
Tickets and Show Details
Performance Dates and Times: Jan. 24-26, 29-31, Feb. 1-2 | 7:30 p.m. and Jan. 26, Feb. 2 | 2 p.m.
Location: de Jong Concert Hall, Franklin S. Harris Fine Arts Center, BYU
Tickets: Available in person at the BYU Ticket Office in the HFAC or Marriott Center, by phone at 801.422.2981 or online at byuarts.com