Sunday, December 16, 2012

Peter Pan—Northwest Children’s Theatre—Portland, OR

"The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up"

Peter Pan, the immortal classic by J. M.  Barrie and adapted for the stage by Milo Mowery, Rodolfo Ortega and Jeff Sanders is playing at the NW Cultural Center through  January 6th, 2013.  It is located at 1819 NW Everett St.  The production is directed and choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director) with fight choreographed by Zero Feeney.  Flying By Foy has been doing this since the Mary Martin version in the early 50’s.  For further information go to www.nwcts.org or call 503-222-4130.

Productions of this play go back to the early 1900’s.  And the part of Peter has usually been played by a young woman.  It has been on stage and TV as a musical with Mary Martin; a Disney, animated version (voiced, this time, by a boy, child actor Bobby Driscoll); Mia Farrow in a later TV incarnation; Spielberg’s opus, Hook, with Robin Williams; a 5-act, British, Trevor Nunn stage interpretation; and, more recently, a very good, non-musical, Australian film, with a boy as Peter; et. al.

Reading into the story, it is clear that Barrie is very respectful of women (Mothers, in particular).  As Peter explains, the reason there are no girls as Lost Children in Neverland is because they are too smart to fall out their prams (and, thus, hustled off as a lost child).  He also has a dim view of Men, as they are pictured either as a Prig (aka, Mr. Darling) or a cut-throat Pirate.  And Neverland is an escaped from the horrors of Adulthood.  A chance to preserve forever the innocence of Childhood.  Alas, tis not to be—reality will win out.

This production is a premiere of another musical re-imaging of the tale.  Gone are Tiger Lily and her tribe (probably, politically incorrect, nowadays) and also the bittersweet epilogue where Peter meets Wendy’s daughter, Jane, unaware of the ravages of time.  And also gone are the endearing songs from the original musical and replaced with a new look into the unending magic.  Some are successful, some are not.

The story should be familiar.  Peter Pan (Michael Kepler Meo), a perpetual boy, is entranced by bedtime stories that the oldest daughter of the Darling family, Wendy (Lea Zawada), tells to her brothers.  So he entices her and her brood to fly with him to “…the second star to the right and straight on till morning,” so that she can be a Mother to his pack of Lost Boys.  Needless to say, a band of Pirates, under the leadership of Captain Hook (John Ellingson) are constantly at war with Peter and his group.  Of course, like all good fairy tales, this one ends up with everyone getting their just deserves.

The flying is super and set changes equally impressive, in how quick and smooth they are.  The sword-fighting scenes by Mr. Feeney were quite entrancing without appearing dangerous.  And the scenic designs and miking (Jeff Seats, Shana Targosz, & Kristeen Willis Crosser) were wonderful, especially the creation of the dog, bird and crocodile.  The flow of the show must have been a nightmare to coordinate but under Ms.  Hardy’s capable hands, it all comes off seamlessly.

As mentioned, some of the songs work and some don’t.  The best of them are I’ll Not Leave You; Boys Are Mean to Birds; I’ll Never Grow Up; and The Boy Who Lives Forever.  Much of the success of these numbers is because of the almost operatic voices of Mr. Meo (Peter), Ms. Zawada (Wendy), and Sophie Shely as the Neverbird.  They have a solid future in singing and musical roles if they choose to pursue it.

The Hook (Mr. Ellingson) and Smee (Kevin-Michael Moore) team, the villains you love  to hate, are quite effective in their exchanges with each other and, especially, with the audience (to cover the scene changes).

Mr. Meo as Peter is quite extraordinary, both in voice and as an actor.  I predict an exciting career in this field for him.  And Ms. Zawada as Wendy is equally impressive, both in singing and acting.  I have marveled at her before in OCT productions, as well as their Y/P improv troupe, Impulse, and as Rose Red in NWCT’s Snow White.  I look forward to seeing  her fine performances in future productions.

And to emphasis that a role being small doesn’t mean you can’t shine.  Cases in point, Ms. Shely in the demanding roles as Nana, the dog, the Neverbird and Tick-Tock, the Crock are excellent.  She manages to convey in her movement and singing the character of these varied creatures, as well as manipulating the puppets.  Well done, Ms. Shely.  And Parker LaRiviere as Slightly, one of the Lost Boys, is noticeable in his command of the stage when he’s on.  I expect good things of him, too, in the future.

This is a production to be seen, as the acting is outstanding and the story a recognizable classic.  A warning, though, get there early, as parking is a real problem in the  NW area of Portland.  And if you do choose to see this warm play over the Christmas Season, tell them Dennis sent you.