Arts & Culture

PCPA Theaterfest's 'Peter Pan' will hook you

“Peter Pan” flies into the Marion Theatre with a high-energy cast of more than 30 singers and dancers, an artful fantasy set, and a Captain Hook who should be called Captain Hoot.

The classic story by James M. Barrie has been performed in many ways, but this production is designed to entertain all ages. Adults will enjoy the great dancing and the high comedy as much as children will, and characters flying high over audience heads is great fun.

Natasha Harris plays Peter, the boy who refuses to grow up. He lives in a fantasy forest called Neverland that is populated with lost boys, pirates and Indians. He visits the bedroom of the Darling family and sweeps Wendy, John and Michael Darling to Neverland so “the Wendy” can be a mother to the lost boys. Confrontations with pirates and Indians are in store.

Harris is a fine Peter, following the British tradition of women playing the role. She has a strong singing voice, low enough to be believable as a pre-teen boy. Jillian Van Niel is excellent as Wendy, and Chase Kelly as John and Marisa Dinsmoor as Michael are cute. (I didn’t realize Michael was a girl until I read the cast list.) Elizabeth Stuart is good as their mother.

Captain Hook is played to the hilt by Erik Stein, a versatile actor with a unique comic persona. He’s so tall and big that in his elaborate pirate garb and hat, he dominates the scene visually, and when his over-the-top comic skills take over it only increases the effect.

Peter S. Hadres plays Hook’s sidekick Smee, and he looks small and wispy beside the Captain. Stein gives Hook a real personality, all bluff and gruff on the outside, but insecure on the inside, afraid of the crocodile who ate his hand and a clock, which ticks inside it.

Stein’s body language alone makes people laugh out loud, but he also has a good singing voice, and in this show, he dances. The pirates’ dance numbers, with Hook at the center, are highlights of the show, as they do the tango, the tarantella, and even link arms for a bit of a can-can. The Indian princess, Tiger Lily, is played well by Ozioma Akagha, and the Indian dances are fine-tuned to native rhythms.

The choreography by Michael Jenkins is terrific, and each of the three ensembles (pirates, lost boys and Indians) has its own style. One dance by the Indians and the lost boys is mostly finely synchronized arm movements.

The plot is nonstop action punctuated by songs and dance numbers. Callum Morris is musical director, and a large orchestra provides the music. There is some well-choreographed fencing as Hook and Peter fight with swords. (Peter has the advantage because he can fly when necessary.) Mark Booher is fight director. The action may be too intense for very young children (under 4 or 5), who won’t understand the tongue-in-cheek tone.

The costumes are appropriately colorful, and the standouts are the animals. Anne Guynn inhabits the furry dog Nana that serves as the Darling children’s nurse, and she’s an audience favorite as she wags her tail or whines or barks. A delightful ostrich and kangaroo appear in Neverland, and the crocodile that Hook fears is amazing — cute rather than scary. Cheryl Odom is costume designer.

The Neverland set is colorful and creative — stylistic rather than realistic. The centerpiece is a large abstract sculpture that suggests intertwined tree trunks. It serves as a portal to the interior of Neverland, as the characters move into it and emerge from it. It segues into the pirate ship for some scenes.

The lighting is dramatic and sets the mood for each sequence. De Anne Kennedy is scenic designer, and Jen “Z” Zornow is lighting designer.Peter Pan, Wendy, Michael, John and, in the final scene, grown-up Wendy’s daughter Jane really do fly. Lifted up on fine cables, they soar high into the cavernous ceiling of the theater and fly over the audience. Flying effects are provided by ZFX Inc.

This is a lavish production filled with action, comedy and music, a delightful opener for both the PCPA Theaterfest season and the holiday season.

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