Wonderland at The Liverpool Empire

Posted on 13 June 2017
By Chris High
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There is a mystique that enthrals and captivates with Lewis Carroll’s literary trip into the bizarre and magical world of Wonderland that is forever timeless. With this new adaptation,Wonderland -which is currently running at The Liverpool Empire and which has been faultlessly scored by Frank Wildhorn – although Alice is far from being the sweet, innocent niece that was the author’s muse, the show still demonstrates that it’s wacky characters still have what it takes to amaze.

There are problems with staging a new musical. The first being that audiences rarely get to her the big numbers on radio or TV anymore like was so much the case once-upon-a-time. People knew by heart Memory, I Don’t Know How to Love Him and their like well before going into the auditorium. Those platforms simply don’t exist so widely now, so it is all testament to Wonderland that there are so many big numbers, performed extraordinarily well. Oh, and there’s little doubt you’ll come away humming a few tunes too!

At the top of the performance list is Kerry Ellis. As a forty year old single mother of Ellie, this Alice is a graduate of the University of Life and no mistake. Pining for her ex-husband and wanting to escape from the real world, no wonder she’s so keen to follow her daughter down a disused lift shaft in hot pursuit of a white rabbit.

Yes, disbelief suspension is very obviously required. However, if their is one sure fired example of magic it lies in the vocal prowess of Kerry Ellis. Soaring and powerful during numbers such as Worst Day and Once More I Can See, subtle and refined in her duet with Jack – played by an equally impressive Stephen Webb – it is clear why she is making such a big name for herself in musical theatre and why it is that Brian May had Ben Elton create the part of Meat Loaf for her in We Will Rock You.

With the whole of the massive Empire stage to run riot in, the cast as a whole take full advantage of the gloriously colourful set. None more so than young Naomi Morris who as stroppy teenager with a heart, Ellie, made the place her own. Her singing is like clarified chocolate, whilst her acting is set fair to forge ahead immeasurably.

As the cool Cat-erpillar, Kayi Ushe is quite transfixing, whereas Dave Willetts as White Rabbit is as endearing as any fluffy bunny should be, particularly during the delightful I Am My Own Invention which could arguably be heralded as song of the show.

When we say Mad Hatter, we think of men. Sorry, but that’s simply true. It’s a brave move then to cast a female in the role, but make no mistake that stand in for the evening Michelle Pentecost as the pseudo-villain of the piece – dripping menace and foreboding as she storms through an electrifying I Will Prevail – is Superb. Feisty, fun and manic, hers is a performance to savour.

Then there is Wendi Peters as the decapitation obsessed Queen of Hearts. Her mere presence is very nearly enough to bring the house down, but she then goes on to demonstrate what a fine singing voice she has. A pity then that her’s is a part more often referred to than seen, therefore limiting her stage time.

The first half could possibly be a little shorter with some tightening, whereas the second half does seem to be in a bit of a hurry to get finished. There could also be a bit more of a Wow! Factor thing to celebrate Alice’s return from her journey through the looking glass, but this is nit-picking.

Overall, Wonderland is a fabulous journey, a timeless tale retold and a wonderful night of musical theatre for everybody.

The Liverpool Empire Theatre
June 12 – June 17
Music: Frank Wildhorn
Director: Lotte Wakeham
Cast Includes: Kerry Ellis, Naomi Morris, Stephen Webb, Michelle Pentecost, Wendi Peters, Dave Willetts, Kayi Ushe, Ben Kerr, Dominic Owen, John Finnemore, Divine Cresswell.
Running Time: 1 hour 50
PR RATING: ***** Wonderful

Read Kerry Ellis discuss all things Wonderland with Chris High here. http://www.purplerevolver.com/style/theatre/126615-kerry-ellis-all-set-to-bring-a-little-wonderland-to-liverpool-empire.html