When tiny Creative Cauldron in Falls Church, Virginia, decided to stage a musical about the boy who wouldn’t grow up, they tapped the talents of three in-house artists for a fresh approach and arrived at Peter Pan and Wendy, a brand new musical now running through March 24th.
We talked with the show’s director and composer to learn just how far the flight to that “second star to the right and straight on ’til morning” took them.
Peter Pan and Wendy should not to be confused with the 1904 play by original author J. M. Barrie. Nor is it a revival of the 1950s era musical Peter Pan made famous by Mary Martin. Creative Cauldron’s adaptation goes back to Barrie’s 1911 novel, according to producing director Laura Connors Hull.
“We wanted to read the novel and dig a little deeper into the world Barrie created. And his emphasis on how important imagination is really appealed to us.”
Hull and her collaborators also made a discovery. “What’s been really surprising is how fresh and contemporary his writing seems. It doesn’t feel at all dated.”
All the collaborative artists working on the show found Peter Pan and Wendy fertile territory for creativity.
Taking a clue from Barrie’s novel, Peter Pan and Wendy offers a larger than life Neverland experience. But, the approach they took to show the contrast between the reality of the Darling family’s London nursery and Neverland is unique, according to Hull.
“We begin our version in the Darling nursery as a puppet stage, so the nursery is the simple, contained world of puppets. When the child puppets break through, and fly, and when they arrive in Neverland, everything becomes larger than life.”
Designing the scenery and puppets is Margie Jervish who spent many years working the Seattle Opera and Seattle Rep as a scenic artist and now teaches at Creative Cauldron. “She does these amazing things with simple materials in this simple space. This kind of project is perfect for her imagination.”
Hull continued, “And then there’s Matt Conner, the wonderful composer and musician who we’ve been working with for the past 11 years.”
Conner’s musicals have been performed at Signature Theatre, including The Hollow, Nevermore, Partial Eclipse, and The Girl from No Man’s Land. He has written several original musical scores for Creative Cauldron productions including Oliver Twist, and the original scripts Eddie Allan Poe and Martin: the King of Pizza.
“What Matt’s managed to do creating original songs is pretty phenomenal,” Hull elaborated. “He has such a fertile imagination and wonderful approach to the lyrics and music. This was a great opportunity for him to help create something new and fresh.”
When Conner re-read Barrie’s novel to seek out characters and moments to set to music, he knew he would create songs for Peter, Wendy, the Indians and the Pirates. “All of those worlds were great for me to tackle.”
“Peter Pan was so rich because there was the sound of pirates I got to create, the sound of the Indians. We also found the character of the Never-Bird in the novel, and, there were mermaids. So we took the Never-Bird and gave it a song, and gave the mermaids a song, too.”
Hull, Jervis and Conner did not make their new version of Peter Pan alone. One of the missions of the learning theatre at Creative Cauldron is to break down barriers and allow all the participants in a production to be a stakeholder in the process of making theatre.
Hull explained, “The concept for the learning theatre is that we anchor the production with adult professionals.”
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
The younger performers can certainly learn from the professionals, said Hull, but experience is its own reward. “It helps to have those professionals, but the kids really learn what it is to be part of a professional production. They do sixteen performances, and they’re asked to be on time for their call.”
“We build these productions around who enrolls. We don’t even have a script until we know who we’re working with. We really try to make it a learning environment where everybody can shine.”
Conner agreed and the experience of creating a new work like Peter Pan and Wendy offers surprises. “I think what Laura has done is make everyone in the show feel like they are linked, rather than there’s a hierarchy in theatre. It doesn’t feel like there’s a lead or an ensemble, everybody’s doing the same thing.”
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.