Aimed at the young and the young at heart, Peter Pan and Wendy is filled with a whimsical spirit as several gaggles of youthful performers retell the adventurous journey to Neverland and back again.
This is a production of Creative Cauldron’s Learning Theater – children’s theatre that actually features children, ably supported by adult artists and performers. The show made me think of a real nursery where clever children and some willing grown ups play dress up, pretend in a grand-old style and celebrate what it is to be a child once again.
This new Peter Pan and Wendy keeps the playfulness of the original story intact, and by original, I mean James M. Barrie’s 1911 novel. Moving at a brisk pace without short-changing the story, this new adaptation has a lean running time, clocking in at around 90 minutes. The youngest audience members will be transported on the wind’s back to an imaginative world of plucky pirates, mischievous mermaids, and Peter’s fun-loving band of lost boys.
I found myself observing some of the toddlers and tykes almost as much as I watched the show, just to imagine seeing this classic come to life through their eyes. It was thrilling for me to see the boys and girls sitting on the edge of their seats, mesmerized by the wonders of live performance – some of them probably for the first time. I think they are now hooked. (Pun intended.)
The young audience members had plenty to enthrall them, starting with the thirty-plus children making up the lost boys, pirates, Indians, and all manner of fanciful creatures. As one of Creative Cauldron’s learning theater presentations, inclusion is the name of the game for producing director Laura Conners Hull. During the show’s creation and rehearsal process, every performer’s talents and strengths are considered and there is a palpable sense of ensemble among the entire group.
The show opened with a Star Chorus (they double as the pirates) giving a prologue taken right from the opening chapter of Barrie’s original novel. “All children, except one, grow up,” the show begins. Barrie’s most famous lines and the intention of his magical book pull the audience in, assisted by the sizable cast as they enjoyed every role and savored their moments onstage.
Adults and older children who know the story of Peter Pan from the original play, Mary Martin-musical or film treatments will not be disappointed, since the adapters have taken great care to keep the story intact while providing their own stamp on Barrie’s creation. Hull partnered once again with local composer and performer Matt Conner as she has on a number of productions.
Conner has created an enchanting score and songs to punctuate the familiar story. His skill at tunes and lyrics has been displayed at Creative Cauldron previously (Oliver Twist, Martin: the King of Pizza) and elsewhere (Signature Theatre’s The Hollow and Nevermore, to name a few) and he is once again in fine form. Highlights from the score include the Broadway belter-style song “Clock in the Croc,” executed with panache by young Emma Rollins; the unique song and dance for Peter and the Indians, “Ya-Ha-Ha-Ha-Way”; and the super-catchy crowd-pleaser “Keep the Beat,” which gets the whole audience clapping and stomping to save Tinkerbell and rattle the rafters with joy. Gabe Magiante deserves a nod for giving Conner’s music lush orchestrations.
Imagination is front and center from the very beginning of Peter Pan and Wendy. The nursery scene, where we meet the Darling family and Peter first flies through the window to retrieve his lost shadow, is performed as puppet theatre. Hand-held versions of Mr. and Mrs. Darling, their children, their furry nanny Nana and Peter trod the boards of a puppet stage. The human performers work their puppets in plain sight, Avenue Q-style.
The puppets, nearly dopplegangers for their live counterparts, are the work of talented scenic designer Margie Jervis. Jervis also conceived the playground like set that fills the small Cauldron space, and a multitude of costumes, props and masks. Using the simplest of materials and crafting supplies, Jervis adds fairy dust in all the right places.
Once Wendy, Michael and John fly with Peter and Tinkerbell to Neverland, we see the real performers, who appear larger than life compared to their puppet selves. I think Barrie would be pleased at such a theatrical and inventive twist.
Peter Pan and Wendy
Closes March 24, 2013
ArtSpace Falls Church
410 South Maple Avenue
Falls Church, VA
1 hour, 45 minutes without intermission
Fridays thru Sundays
Complementing the children onstage, grown-up Dani Stoller follows in the long tradition of female Peter Pan’s. Stoller – seen in Creative Cauldron’s Eddie Allen Poe and Dying City at Signature – has the chutzpah to carry off the boyish role and gets to show off her powerful singing voice. As her foil, Teddy Roosevelt-look-alike E. Augustus Knapp cuts a fine figure as in the dual roles of (puppet) Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. He makes Hook’s great lines and stage business his own and looks to be having a grand time among the moppets with which he shares the stage.
Peter Pan and Wendy reminds us that once we grow up, we are in danger of losing that precious commodity, imagination. The artists and performers at Creative Cauldron prove that imaginative theatre is alive and well.
Peter Pan and Wendy adapted from the novel by J. M. Barrie by Laura Conners Hull (book) and Matt Conners (music) . Scenic and puppet design: Margie Jervis. Lighting design: Zachary A. Dalton. Orchestrations: Gabriel Magiante orchestrated the musical score. Pruduced by Creative Cauldron Learning Theater . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.
Julia L. Exline . DCMetroTheaterArts
Julia L. Exline . DCMetroTheaterArts