REVIEW | ZinZanni’s ‘Wonderland’ sophiscated, hilarious, and wicked

Some theatrical productions lift your spirits. During, after and every time you think about them. As of this writing, a critic can’t stop smiling, laughing and cheering. 

Teatro Zinzanni has a new show — “Welcome to Wonderland,” — Lewis Carroll’s “Alice“ deconstructed as a three-hour spectacle of cirque, cabaret and comedy.

So down the imaginary rabbit hole we all tumble into the antics of this magical and eclectic ensemble. 

“Wonderland” is sophisticated, hilarious and wicked. Should we say naughty? Banter, bunnies and beheadings, plus a cruel queen, 

“Off with your head!”  What’s not to love?

Teatro takes liberties, but the plot’s still familiar. Curious Alice follows the jabbering white rabbit, falls down a hole, meets the Queen of Hearts, plays croquet with her majesty, a pink flamingo as a mallet, and chats with a caterpillar high on drugs. 

As the Queen of Hearts, Lady Rizo — aka NYC import, Amelia Zirin-Brown — reigns with mean-spirited hauteur. Rizo’s blonde tresses are piled high into a beehive, and her wardrobe features vibrant royal couture to match her many moods.  

The rabbit’s name is now “Jack” (Joel Salom), and if he wants to live, he must pander to the Queen. FYI: He’s dressed in golden brown plaid. He also juggles.

At one point, the Red Queen wails, “Nobody loves me” To which the placating Jack replies, “I love you.” She retorts. “You don’t count.”

Things heat up when the two sweethearts, Lewis (Ben Wendel) and Carroll (Rachel Nehmer) show up late, and the Queen goes ballistic. Little does she know there’s a revolution in her future. Hint: Mad Platter (the amazing Kevin Kent), her personal chef, is the secret head of the RQR (Red Queen Resistance). 

Lady Rizo, a mix of Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga, dynamically belts out her tunes.  “I Want to be Evil,” was originally purred by songstress Eartha Kitt. A medley of Destiny Child’s “Survivor” and the Disco Diva anthem, “I Will Survive.” If you listen carefully, you’ll also hear strains of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” 

At one point, Mad Platter (MP) shows off his fake German accent, convinced there is a spy in the audience. A (perhaps?) hapless audience member is soon captured and coerced into joining the antics. MP interrogates and bedevils his captive, and we giggle with sadistic approval.  

Kent is a grand master of improv and on-the-spot mischief He also portrays the imposter Red Queen — his glorious gown rivals Edna’s fancy garb in “Hairspray. The faux royal makes lascivious overtures to his audience-drafted “true love.” Note: I don’t think Lewis Carroll ever in his life wrote the words “gonads,” or “commando.”

Between the sizzling aerial acts and the comedic shenanigans, the actors can be merciless with the crowd. On press night, Liesl, a fetching young audience member in sparkling, sky-blue organza, was chastised for her décolletage. The performers insisted on covering her bosom with a table napkin.  Again and again.

The props include bunny masks, giant tea cups and huge silver spoons.  Spears with upside down hearts for tips. Double-sided battle axes. A huge pocket watch suspended over the action. Giant, gilded picture frames. Carousel ponies. Curiouser and curiouser. 

The cast doubles up on roles.  Wendel and Nehmera, aka Lewis and Carroll, are also the “Duo Madrona.” Once university biology majors, they left their lab and became trapeze artists.  So when they aren’t running around the stage in matching frocks, they’re flying high in “Wonderland.”

Berlin-based Lea Hinz shines as a gymnast/contortionist. Off the hoops, she morphs into a sexy, smoking caterpillar, wriggling off her red and white polka-dotted mushroom perch to slither through the crowd, puffing on her hookah. 

The Red Queen’s guards, Alya and Gael, (Alevtyna Titarenko and Gael Ouisse), are actually aerial gymnasts, and when they launch their “Symbiosis” hand-to-hand routine, their oh-my-goodness muscles ripple. Leaving a critic to fantasize, that instead of becoming a journalist, maybe she should have run away to join the circus.

As co-stars and dueling Queens, Lady Rizo and Kevin Kent dazzle and delight. And hats off to director Joe De Paul, as well as the Orchestra Deville, especially musical standouts, Marino Albero and Hans Teuber. And of course, the kitchen. The five-course, gourmet meal lives up to its promise. The flavors are perfect — subtle and delicious. And if you choose the ribeye steak, for a mere $2.00 extra, a side of white truffle sauce.

Before and after the show, you pass through the Teatro Boutique, glittering with please-take-me home rhinestone jewelry and feathery masks. And just for this production, bunny ears. 

“Have I gone mad?” inquired the Mad Hatter in 1863. 

Alice replied, “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But let me tell you a secret—all the best people are.” 

A century later, existentialist playwright Samuel Beckett expressed a similar sentiment, “We are all born mad. Some of us remain so.”

And now, some 60 years after that and in the wake of “Welcome to Wonderland,” this critic adds, “Mais qui and thank goodness!”

Welcome to Wonderland runs at Teatro ZinZanni’s Moulin Rouge Spiegeltent through Feb. 26, 2017; tickets $99-$174; 206-802-0015 or