“Mad Hatter The Musical” – Herberger Theater Center

Theater Review – May 5, 2024


“Mad Hatter The Musical”
Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

World premiere musicals are always challenging and expensive until they have been worked through the creative process and come to real life.  Broadway musicals are developed over time and are then tested on invited audiences without scenery or costumes.  Phoenix area theaters are occasionally getting world premiere shows.  They are often plays that require less development time and smaller investments than musicals.

Not to avoid a new musical, the Herberger Theater Center is ending its first season of self-produced shows by birthing “Mad Hatter The Musical.” We are told it is on its way to Broadway and London.  Based on the premiere performance, there is not much chance of continued success for the show.

The book, music, and lyrics by Vincent Connor, Michael J. Polo, and Victor Valdez are derivative, mundane, and bland while they bring back remembrances of vastly superior musicals.  Based on Lewis Carroll’s 1865 “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and its 1871 sequel “Through the Looking Glass,” the new musical, set in 19th century London, revolves around the Hatter, labelled the Mad Hatter by many but not by Carroll.

The fanciful story is full of elaborate tomfoolery as the well-known tale unfolds.  But the musical lacks the story’s marvelous mayhem which isn’t helped by a unit set of bleak black stairs and little more.  Where’s the frivolity?  The costumes introduce a bit of color and a scant touch of magic but not enough to turn the generally dour looking and sounding show into the mad fun it should be.

The show was reported to be just two hours but opening night stretched on far longer and while the pacing is brisk the show plods and never catches fire.  It is also unclear who the show is geared to impress.  It is too slow and draggy to keep young audiences entranced and the tale’s tedious transcription will lull adults into well-deserved naps.

The cast has a professional sheen and they work tirelessly with ordinary material and routine dances littered with cliché movements.  A boisterous orchestra attacks the mediocre score with gusto but uneven sound allows some dialogue to be incomprehensible and from my side seat, stage right action couldn’t be seen. It is also unusual to have a musical theater program that fails to list the songs.

The verdict on “Mad Hatter The Musical” is that much rethinking, redesigning, and re-staging is mandated are multiple sparks of creativity and innovation if it is to be successful.  As it is, “Mad Hatter The Musical” is unlikely to reach Broadway or London.

“Mad Hatter The Musical” continues through May 19.  To order tickets, call the Herberger Theater Center box office at 602-252-8497 or order tickets online at www.herbergertheater.org.

Grade: C

3 Responses to ““Mad Hatter The Musical” – Herberger Theater Center”

  1. Jackie Rifkin said:

    May 07, 24 at 14:11

    Why am I just discovering you! Wonderful reviews of local productions, especially the newest one of Mad Hatter the Musical . Do you have a subscription list? I agreed with most of your comments about the Constitution but did find it rather long and strange when they ran around passing out the little books, taking them back, and then getting our votes. You dare to criticize Gammage, good for you! Thank you from a frequent theatre goer.

  2. Chris Curcio said:

    May 07, 24 at 14:58


    Thank you so much for your comments about Curtain Up Phoenix.  I have approved your comments to appear on the website at the bottom of my “Mad Hatter The Musical” review.  Allow time for the approved post to appear, though.

    I have been writing about local theater for many years and, as you can see, have some very definite thoughts about local theater. 

    I was thrilled to know that others find the expensive tickets and facility to house Broadway musicals at ASU Gammage is an issue.  As I have said many times, ASU Gammage was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as a concert hall and you can’t adapt a concert hall as a theater for touring Broadway musicals even though over $1 million was spent on “improved sound.”  Plays and most musicals can’t be heard in such a hall. 

    There are rumors of 3,500 seat theater being included if the Arizona Coyotes Arena is built in Northeastern Phoenix and an entertainment district surrounds the arena.  Such a hall is badly needed in Phoenix but even if the facility is built it MUST be properly designed to accommodate Broadway attractions including impeccable acoustics and backstage space that can handle big, multi-set touring musicals.  ASU Gammage is NOT equipped to house such shows. 

    Oh well, maybe such a theater will be built but it is no doubt years away!

    Thanks again for your comments and I welcome a new reader.  Please feel free to write about anything appearing on the site that you agree or disagree with.  Feedback is critical!!!!

    Thanks again for your time and thoughts.

    Chris Curcio
    Curtain Up Phoenix

  3. Lisa C said:

    May 18, 24 at 16:10

    We left Mad Hatter at the intermission. We don’t understand the casting choices and how this production is for children. In the first half it promotes taking drugs to cure a limp and cheating on your wife. Also how does the main character change from white to African American?