Sunday, December 14, 2008

Peter Pan

Uninspired ‘PETER PAN’ at Beck, but the Kid Reviewers liked it!

You can often get the unexpected from director Fred Sternfeld! He did not disappoint in his production of ‘PETER PAN’ at Beck Center.

Though the script centers on a little boy, the part of Peter is usually played by a female. The likes of Mary Martin (Peter in the 1954 Broadway premiere of the modern version of the show), Sandy Duncan and Cathy Ribgy are noted for portraying the role. Only one male, Jack Noseworthy, played Peter on Broadway, and he was an understudy. In the Beck production, Sternfeld selected John Paul Sato, a mature male, to play the role. In many ways, it was a wise choice.

The story of Peter becoming the subject of a musical has an interesting history. A short-lived 1905 musical version appeared on a New York stage. In 1924 Jerome Kern tried his hand at an adaptation with little success. In 1950 Leonard Bernstein wrote five songs for a stage version which starred Boris Karloff and Jean Arthur, but it wasn’t audience pleasing material. It wasn’t until 1945 that a hit was born due to the creativity of director Jerome Robbins, music by Mark Charlap and Jule Styne, and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It was a hit despite mixed reviews. The final push toward immortality for Peter was a television production of that Broadway staging which brought the Peter Pan story into many homes. And, of course, then there was the Disney film.

The musical is based on J.M. Barrie's 1904 tale of Peter Pan, a boy who didn't want to grow up and spent his life in Neverland. The tale recounts how he brings the Darling children (Wendy, John and Michael) to Neverland with him, the machinations of the Indians and the Lost Boys to confront pirates, and how Peter defeats his foe, Captain Hook, with the help of a crocodile.

The Beck production, in spite of having basically a good cast, fails to light up the stage. The show drags. Much of the humor doesn’t work. The fight scenes, which were poorly developed by John Davis, are flat and fake. The cast doesn’t seem to be enjoying themselves and so the audience doesn’t either. Even the music lacks the necessary exciting tempo needed to envelop the many youngsters in the audience and give service to the score.

For those who are used to seeing and hearing a sprightly and slight body and voice in the role, it takes a little bit of getting used to to accept Sato’s deep voice and muscular form in the green-tighted role. He wins us over with his animated face, though he sometimes overdoes the smirks and smiles. He has a good singing voice and “flies” comfortably. His “I Got to Crow” is delightful.

Kelly Smith is charming as Wendy. She has a very nice voice, the right attitude, and a good English accent. Lincoln Sandham (John) and Stephen Sandham (Michael) are quite acceptable in their roles, though their spoken lines were sometimes hard to hear.

Michael Mauldin was not believable as Mr. Darling and was never evil nor snarly nor funny enough as Captain Hook. In fact, much of the problem with the production centered on his performance as “meanest pirate of them all.” The same lack of characterization could be aimed at the pirates who are often the center of amusement in Pan productions. Bob Abelman came close to the right image, but the others were flat.

On the other hand, the Lost Boys were excellent. Each maintained his characterization well and their singing and dancing were quite good. The same could be said for the Indians.

Aimee Kliuber’s costumes were disappointing, especially the badly designed dog suit for Nana. Instead of cuddly and cute, the animal looked flea-bagged and molting. This left little visual room for Gregory White to create a delightful dog/nursemaid.

As I have done in the past with kid-friendly shows, I took the “Kid Reviewers,” my grandsons Alex (13) and Noah (11 1/2) to the production. They liked it a lot more than grandpa, giving the production thumbs ups of 7 and 8 out of ten.

Noah liked Ben Needham’s sets (grandpa totally agreed), the way the story developed (yep!) and the dancing (grandpa wasn’t totally enamored with some of the movements, especially “Mysterious Lady” and the dreadful “The Battle”).

Alex liked most of the singing, thought the music was well played, and believed that Peter was very good.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: I expect much from a musical directed by Fred Sternfeld and choreographed by Martin Cespedes. I was disappointed in their version of ‘PETER PAN.’ It wasn’t terrible, but it just wasn’t everything that it could and should have been.