A Wonderland is a great entry point for those who have never seen Anonymous Ensemble's high energy, technological savvy, all-around bad-ass approach (which is normally to Greek mythology). There's room for all of their tropes here: the Mad Hatter (Josh Hoglund) replaces the crazy computer, Oedi; Jessica Weinstein is still on stilts, except that now she's the Queen of Hearts; rope aerialism becomes the Cheshire Cat (Kiebpoli M. Calnek); wild Southern drag--new in form, but similar in attitude--sets up the white rabbit as Blanche duBunny (Matt Mager); and of course, there's a live rock band and a chorus of modern dancers. However, because it's still Alice in Wonderland at heart, it's a lot harder for writer/director Eamonn Farrell to pull off the "shock" that's necessary to really "awe" the audience.
It's hard to be crazier or smarter than Lewis Carroll, so some of the requisite scenes--like the tea party--can't help feeling forced. The same goes for the characters--especially the less quoted ones, like the Countess: they end up with interesting songs (composed by William Antoniou) but are themselves uninteresting. Farrell's solution is to rely on his eclectic videography--a lot of digital effects and live editing--and crack aesthetic team (David Scotchford's highly suggestive choreography, paired with shiny glam-rock costuming). Still, except for some overlong bits toward the end, it works (as the eye-catchingly inventive often does).
At heart, A Wonderland is Zen: is Alice (Janelle Lannan), a 34-year-old administrative assistant who feeds her dreams by singing cabaret once a week, dreaming of an audience (and of her twisted popularity in Wonderland), or are we--the audience--dreaming of her? In this regard, the early half of the show far exceeds the latter half, for it maintains an air of mystery from the first moment a hand appears atop a ten-foot red curtain, slowly scissoring down the veil between one world and the next. It's also full of fresh ideas: in order to conjure up the transformatively freeing "Drink Me" scene, Farrell sprinkles water on a many-doored diorama, transposing video of Alice atop it. Later, the Caterpillar is brought to life by five individually puppeted glow-in-the-dark Hoberman spheres, and four dancers bend themselves into the shape of an oven, just in time for the Dutchess to start cooking her puppet baby.
It's when the delusions start to repeat themselves, grow too mundane, or too closely mirror Carroll's work that the show suffers. Farrell's safe in the musical portions, especially given Lannan's throbbing voice, but not so with his use of the Dormouse (Liz Davito) as an interviewer, nor with the sluggish pace of a celebrity poker match and subsequent trial in the Queen's Casino, in which the prosecution's March Hare (Cory Antiel)--among others--is forced to make random, characterless quips. Thankfully, A Wonderland spends far more time in wild wonder than it does on dry land. It's at the least bemusing, if not wholly bewitching.