Saturday, December 12, 2009

Peter Pan

‘PETER PAN’ flies into the hearts of kids at Beck

Just before the conclusion of Beck Center’s ‘PETER PAN’ a short scene was needed to give time to change the sets. So Peter (John Paul Soto) and Tiger Lilly (Alexis Generette Floyd) stood in front of the closed front curtain, and asked some children in the audience to come on stage and “crow.” Three little ones, a shy girl and two vocal boys, bounded up. One of the boys, probably having been Peter for Halloween, came forth in a total Peter Pan costume, making him look like a clone of Soto. The kids on stage crowed, the kids in the audience crowed, and the entire experience was charming. And so was most of the rest of the production.

Beck’s Artistic Director Scott Spence decided to bring back ‘PETER PAN’ for yet another holiday season. But this time, he took over as director, whacked away at the overly long script, brought in a new Hook (George Roth), and supported him with many of last year’s strong cast and production team.

‘PETER PAN’ is a musical adaptation of J. M. Barrie's 1904 play. The music is mostly by Mark Charlap, with additional music by Jule Styne. Most of the lyrics were written by Carolyn Leigh, with additional words by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
The 1954 Broadway musical production, which starred Mary Martin as Peter and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook, earned Tony Awards for both stars. The show has enjoyed many revivals and has become a holiday staple at many theatres.

The story centers on Peter, a boy who ran away from his parents because he heard them discussing what he would be when he grew up. Peter didn’t want to grow up. He desires to be a boy forever. Missing a mother for himself and the other Lost Boys, he talks Wendy, a young British girl, into coming to Neverland and being the troupe’s mother. She flies away, with her brothers, John and Michael, to find a world of Indians, pirates and a crocodile. It’s a fantasy with a strong underlying message.

The highlight of the Beck production is Martin Céspedes’ choreography. He is a master at taking a group of semi-talented movers and making them appear to be dancing with ease and delight. His restaging of last year’s choreography, with a few new tricks, works again, especially in “Ugg-a-Wugg,” and “Indians.”

In contrast to the usual productions of the show, Peter is played by a male rather than a female. This gives a totally different dimension to the role. In the hands of Soto, Peter is not delicate and charming, but all boy. In fact, he may be too manly to being portraying a kid who doesn’t want to grow up, but in general the interpretation works. He is softer this year than last, but he still has trouble in the higher song registers.

Kelly Smith, as in the past, is engaging as Wendy. This is one talented young lady. She sings and acts well and is totally believable.

Brothers Lincoln and Stephen Sandham (there are four Sandham brothers in this production) are British-correct as John and Michael. Stephen is a little scene stealer, and lights up the stage with his antics.

Floyd is delightful as Tiger Lily, the leader of a group of the nicely performing tribe of female Indians. She dances and sings with vigor.

Some of the lost boys are a disappointment. Often their lines are flat, lacking meaning and there is tendency for several to look at the audience during scenes, breaking continuity rather than staying focused on the action and reacting to what is going on.

The pirates are acceptable, but generally lack the dynamics that should make them outrageously funny bumblers, rather than ruthless cutthroats.

George Roth is the new Father and Captain Hook. It appears that he decided to underplay the Hook role, so he loses some of the fun that is usually inherent in the overblown version of the role. He’s not bad, just a little lacking in dynamics. Often, in other productions, when Hook meets his doom, the kids applaud. Nothing here.

The fight scene, which should be swashbuckling and a hoot, lacks energy. It is very plotted and is almost slow motion. Maybe a strobe light would have helped.

Do you believe in fairies? The kids on the night I saw the show sure did. They seemed primed and ready for the scene where Peter informs the audience
that Tinker Belle, his personal fairy, will die if children don’t clap and yell that they believe. Several of the children around me yelled and clapped and jumped around so much that I’m sure they went home hoarse. Yes, they believed!

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s ‘PETER PAN’ is generally a delight and should be loved by the kids of all ages who see the show. It’s a nice holiday break from the usual Christmas plays.