PERFORMANCE REVIEW: PETER PAN
By Jain Lemos
Closing their successful season with the wistful “Peter Pan” at the Rodey Theatre, Landmark Musicals is determined to prove no aim is too high for their reach—not even the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Scottish-born writer J. M. Barrie penned the opus more than a century ago as a brokenhearted tribute to his brother who died in a skating accident at age 13, and for his mother who he longed to console. The play was immediately successful when first appearing on stage in 1904. Through many adaptations, and the addition of a musical score and dance routines for Broadway in 1954, Barrie’s peculiar dialogue and characters remain nearly the same today as originally written.
While the songs don’t quite hit the mark of unforgettable, thankfully the story has big, memorable characters that stay with us forever. As the play opens to a nursey in the fashionable residential area of Bloomsbury in London’s West End, the Darling family appears perfectly normal, until we discover someone has left their shadow behind. With that fact established, the rest of their reality is open for interpretation.
Mr. Darling (Ed Chavez) and Mrs. Darling (Erin Warden) fuss over each other and their brood with smothering and dismissing, pulling off the nervousness of social climbers with conviction. Warden effectively gets eyes to drooping with her sleepy delivery of “Tender Shepherd”. Children Wendy (Ariana Gant), John (Jackson Murrieta), and Michael (Charlie Arthur Groves) never miss a cue but spend little time down stage. Gant’s diction mirrors every mother she’s ever been around while she uses her posture to smartly convey both curious little girl and star-struck groupie once Peter arrives.
And once Peter arrives, things start to get interesting. Zoey Reese wraps herself into the part without end, giving us a Peter Pan we can believe in. If crowing is a measure of authenticity, Reese’s marks are textbook. She brings high energy to every placement of her feet and bearable vocals to songs. Most remarkable are Reese’s flying acrobatics. At one point in the back-and-forth journey to Neverland, she gets up to an incredible speed!
This spectacle prepares us for the first glimpse of the Jolly Roger crew. When it comes to Pirates, this gang is tight. Landmark veteran director Zane Barker takes on the role of Smee, the spectacled boatswain who is decisively a way-out privateer. Barker is fun and funny, nimble and naughty. When Captain Hook (Ed Chavez) makes his grand entrance, we wonder why we thought his hook was so scary. Chavez as that dark and fearful man (not) is a riot in this role. For “Hook’s Tango” his prancing is preposterous while his voice carries succinctly and seamlessly with his mates.
On the other side of the little island, the Lost Boys play and banter with intense abilities, treating their stage spaces as though they were in their own back yards. Nibs (Nick Barker) is particularly notable, probably because at age eight it’s marvelous that he holds his own with the older players. One of the performance’s best moments is during their statement of defiance in “I Won’t Grow Up”, sung with the Darling children and Peter.
Fortunately, on Peter’s side in fighting Hook and company, are Neverland’s indigenous people, headed by the courageous Tiger Lily (Courtney Giannini). The Indian dancers kick as high as ever, spin expertly and groove in style. They have great fun with “Ugh-A-Wug” finding creative ways to beat out a language of their own. Throughout, choreographers Louis and Courtney Giannini once again showcase their vast imaginations. The big numbers are beautifully rehearsed allowing great expressions to shine.
Just as the story of Peter Pan’s wild adventures has become a staple in children’s entertainment, so are the production’s superstitious traditions: Peter is played by a female and Mr. Darling and Captain Hook are covertly played by the same actor. In this run, director Laurie Finnegan stays true to those rules. She also takes the material seriously where warranted, for example, making sure that Native American depictions are portrayed respectfully. The result is a satisfying escape that makes you wonder if you should have stayed in Neverland when you had the chance way back when.
Dress up the young ones and go have a blast. With orchestration by Darby Fegan, “Peter Pan” runs at the Rodey Theatre through Sunday, December 11, 2016. For tickets go to Landmark Musicals’ website.