Theaterfest’s high-flying lineup

From left, Marisa Dinsmoor as Michael Darling, Chase Kelly as John Darling, Natasha Harris as Peter Pan and Jillian Van Niel as Wendy Darling in PCPA Theaterfest’s ‘Peter Pan.’
From left, Marisa Dinsmoor as Michael Darling, Chase Kelly as John Darling, Natasha Harris as Peter Pan and Jillian Van Niel as Wendy Darling in PCPA Theaterfest’s ‘Peter Pan.’ PHOTO BY LUIS ESCOBAR, REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO

To truly appreciate “Peter Pan,” you have to examine the musical from a child’s point of view.

“Every time you look at it, you think, ‘What are the elements you love that your kids love?’ ” director Patricia M. Troxel said. “You need a child in your life.”

PCPA Theaterfest’s production of “Peter Pan,” which opens tonight in Santa Maria, seeks to simultaneously capture the wonder and excitement of childhood and the wistful nostalgia of adulthood. The musical runs through Dec. 23.

According to Troxel, “Peter Pan” is often the first stage production that children see.

“There’s going to be a lot of people coming to see the show having their first theatrical experience,” said Erik Stein, who plays larger- than-life villain Captain Hook. “Hopefully, they’ll have a lot of fun and this hooks ’em for life.”

Busy season ahead

“Peter Pan” kicks off a packed performance schedule at PCPA Theaterfest that includes Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” William Shakespeare’s “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and the Tony Award winner “The 39 Steps,” inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s romantic thriller.

One highlight is the American premiere of “My Fairytale,” a musical about the life and times of Danish storyteller Hans Christian Anderson. It’s the work of Stephen Schwartz, the award-winning composer of “Godspell,” “Pippin” and “Wicked.”

The season also includes two musicals set during the American civil rights movement — the comedy “Hairspray” and the drama “Caroline, Or Change” — and “Interplay: The Stage Between,” PCPA’s annual festival of new plays.

“We have a really ambi-

tious season this year,” said Stein, PCPA’s casting director.

He described “Peter Pan” —which follows siblings Wendy, John and Michael Darling’s adventures in Neverland as they meet Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys and battle the sinister Captain Hook— as a classic musical about childhood imagination.

Based on James Matthew Barrie’s 1904 “play with music,” “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” the musical version of “Peter Pan” opened on Broadway in 1954 with Mary Martin in the title role. Successive productions have starred Sandy Duncan and Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby.

“I’ve wanted to do this role since I was a little kid trying to fly off the couch, watching Mary Martin on a bootleg video,” said Natasha Harris, who plays Peter Pan in the PCPA show.

“It’s one of those great roles every young actress wants to play,” Troxel said of Peter Pan, adding that the male role is usually played by a woman following British pantomime tradition.

To play Peter, Harris studied home videos of her younger brother and tried to emulate his movements, expressions and sounds.

“She’s got a beautiful sensibility as an actor — aggressive and direct … (yet) beautifully nostalgic in moments,” Troxel said.

Harris said the best parts of playing an energetic, mischievous sprite are flying and fighting with Captain Hook.

“I really enjoy the sword-fighting,” Harris said. “The epic duels that (PCPA Artistic Director) Mark Booher has so graciously choreographed for us are fun, exciting and challenging.”

In addition to crossing blades and wits with Peter Pan, Stein will exhibit some fancy footwork as Captain Hook.

In “Peter Pan,” he dances a tango with his loyal mate Smee (Peter S. Hadres), tries a tarantella and participates in a waltz that turns into a Russian ballet. Michael Jenkinson serves as choreographer.

Stein said he relishes portraying “the greatest pirate of all time.”

“In my opinion, he is the hero of the show,” Stein said with a chuckle. “It’s this play about this amazing pirate, and if people did what he said, Neverland would be perfect.”

Unfortunately, he added, “I’m a grownup in a child’s world, and the child keeps changing the rules on me.”

As is traditional, Stein doubles as the children’s father, Mr. Darling.

Jillian Van Niel plays Wendy, Chase Kelly plays John and Marisa Dinsmoor plays Michael. The rest of the cast includes Elizabeth Stuart as Mrs. Darling and, filling out the pirate crew, Jenkinson as Starkey and Evans Eden Jarnefeldt as Mullins.

Understanding Neverland

According to Troxel, PCPA’s production combines elements of the original play with later musical versions and excerpts from Barrie’s books.

Popular songs include “I Won’t Grow Up,” “I’m Flying” and “Never Never Land,” described by Troxel as a magical moment “when Wendy and Peter help us understand what Neverland is.”

“It comes back to the essence of imagination,” she said, adding that it’s especially suited for children.

Although PCPA Theaterfest shows are usually limited to ages 5 and up, a few “Peter Pan” performances will be open to audience members as young as 3. And the two-hour runtime makes the show accessible to families during the busy holiday season, she said.

“It’s a show that really has an opportunity to reach any age group,” Harris said. “It reminds us as adults that childhood is fleeting and it’s something we can still hold on to if we want to.

“For children, the magic (of the story) is so enthralling.”

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.