Monday, December 16, 2013

Peter Pan—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

"Second Star to the Right…”

This children’s classic by James M. Barrie is adapted for the stage as a musical by Milo Mowery, Rodolfo Ortega and Jeff Sanders and is directed & choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy, NWCT’s Artistic Director.  It will be playing through January 5th, at their location in the Cultural Center at 1819 NW Everett St. in Portland.  For further information, go to their site or call 503-222-4480.

This is, perhaps, the ultimate children’s story.  Many adaptations of it have been presented over the last 100+ years.  Some with music, some without, some animated, some with females playing Pan, and sometimes with the Mermaid and Native Americans sections of the book included.  But all are a tribute to Barrie’s lasting legacy, and profits going to a Home for Orphans.

Maud Adams may have started the tradition of females playing Pan, when she did it in the 1920’s.  It is unclear why a woman (not a girl) has claimed this role much of the time.  It could be because Barrie had a great deal of respect for Women, Mothers and girls (Wendy is definitely the leader amongst the Darlings kids, as well as Tiger Lily in her tribe and Tinkerbelle, the dominant female force in Peter’s life).  He also had a great affinity for orphans.  And he didn’t seem to have much use for adulthood in men.  Mr. Darling is a bit of a whiner and the other adult males are pirates.  Doesn’t bode well for us guys.

Some of the names associated over the years with the role are Mary Martin, Mia Farrow, Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigby and, of the male variety, Robin Williams (Hook) and Bobby Driscoll (Disney’s animated version).  There was even a 5-act version, encompassing the whole story, by the Royal Shakespeare Company of England (which, I believe, NWCT also did).  The best of the filmed ones was, in my opinion, a little-known, non-musical with no big stars from Australia made a few years back.  And now we have, once again, a Portland-bred one.

The story should be familiar to everyone.  Peter Pan (Martin Tebo) lives in Neverland (looking at the night sky, it’s “the second star to the right and straight on till morning”).  He, as well as the Lost Boys, were orphaned at an early age because they fell out of their prams.  There are no girls in the group because “they’re too smart to fall out of their prams.”  Therefore, they never grow up and inhabit the island with some flirtatious mermaids; a Never-bird and a crocodile called, Tick-Tock (both played by Hailey Tollner), because he swallowed an alarm clock and also has a taste for pirate meat; their arch-enemies, the Pirates (Kevin-Michael Moore, Sam Burns, Andrew C. Stark and Zero Feeney); and a mischievous fairy called, Tinkerbelle.

But, although quite content in their own ways, they do feel the need for a “mother” and of bed-time stories.  So Peter comes to earth to “borrow” Wendy (Carly Cooney) and her two brothers, John (Joshua Harding), and Michael (Skylar Derthick) so they can sample a proper family.  But through a series of adventures and mis-adventures…Tinkerbelle almost dies, they battle pirates, Hook (John Ellingson) gets his comeuppance, and the Lost Boys find a home.  But, defiant to the end, Peter flies off, vowing to never grow up.  (The reason I can’t identify everyone is because many of the roles were double-cast, and no indication as to who played who at any given performance.)

The music is pleasant and my favorite numbers were Don’t be afraid of mermaids and Boys are mean to birds.  The adaptation is quite good but I do miss the Jane segment of the Mary Martin one, which has a bitter-sweet ring to it.  But the interplay between Smee and Hook during the set changes is priceless and the kids ate it up.  The set, props, costumes (Jeff Seats & Shana Targosz) and puppets (John Ellingson) are a great addition to the show, very colorful, and the Flying By Foy (they’ve been doing it since the Martin production in the 50’s) is still the best, as kids are smitten by it.

Hardy’s has another high-flying treat for the audience, as she explores expertly the magic and mystery of childhood!  And those adults that wish to be taken on a journey back in time will appreciate it, too.  She has a winning cast and it is a poignant, romantic view of an era long past…and sorely missed.  One is easily caught up in such an adventurous tale and I found myself applauding loudly when encouraging Tink back to life (and even shed a tear).  This collaborative, spontaneous experience cannot be found on any computer, as it is a product purely of personal and collective imagination.

The children are a few years older than those in the story but the actors are all quite good.  Tebo delivers the right magic for the role, as does Cooney as Wendy.  And Ellingson play does a wonderful balancing act between being menacing as Hook and amusing, being careful not to frighten the young ones.  An expert at work.

My personal favorites were Moore as Smee, Hook’s first-mate.  He has some terrifically funny gestures and whiney voice.  I believe he was the kids’ favorite, overall, for humor.  And once again, to explore that old adage, “there are no small parts…,” Tollner as Nana, the dog, and the Crock and the Neverbird is terrific!  She has a great voice in the song she has with Pan and is a pleasant presence when performing the puppets.  Someone I look forward to seeing again onstage.

You might consider enrolling your kids in classes here (or at OCT), as they shine when onstage and it is certainly a positive influence on their lives as they mature.  I recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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