BWW Review: PETER PAN - An Entertaining Evening
Lake Travis Musical Theatre production, the iconic 1954 musical PETER PAN, makes for an entertaining evening.
PETER PAN, based on the the play by J.M. Barrie written in 1904, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and music by Mark Charlap, made its debut in 1954. The story, eventually made into the famous Disney animated film, remains unchanged in the intervening 113 years. The ageless Peter (Reagan Dunford) sneaks into the Victorian nursery of the Darling family to retrieve his shadow and ends up taking Wendy (Cassie Kinchen), John (Nicholas Philmon) and Michael (Reilly Favacho) flying off to Neverland where they will never have to grow up. Arch nemesis Captain Hook (Tim Keating) and his hapless band of pirates pursue Peter and the Lost Boys, but with the help of Tiger Lily (Suzanne Orzech) and her band of Indians help defeat the bad guys and save the day.
The story is sweet, funny and engaging with one notable exception, unfortunately there are some aspects of PETER PAN that are less than optimal children's entertainment in 2017. Barrie's characterization of Tiger Lily and the Indians is typical for a Victorian man who never met a Native American, but should it be presented to a modern audience? The song "Ugg-A-Wugg" and guttural type dialogue is downright offensive and I question the wisdom of producing a 1954 version of the musical that contains racist stereotypes. I grew up with the Disney movie version and the 1955 NBC production with Mary Martin and I don't remember finding it unsettling in the 1960's, but more than half a century later do we still need to present Native Americans as savages for young audiences? The 2014 NBC's PETER PAN LIVE! with Christopher Walken as Captain Hook, eliminated "Ugg-A-Wugg" as well as other more offensive portions of the show. If the show was modernized for the NBC broadcast, why is this the only version available through Music Theatre International? The fact that I had my grandchildren with me brought into sharp focus the different times and different attitude about those people we share this wonderful planet with. After the show was finished we had time during our long car ride home to discuss how we should portray people of different cultures and what was acceptable 50 or 100 years ago is not acceptable today. Granted, these are problems with the script and not with the production. My biggest take away was this; while a show is fun to produce, while the roles are broad, campy and exciting to play on stage, should the Lake Travis Music Theatre producers have chosen this show, when they could have picked another equally entertaining musical to showcase their considerable talent. I sincerely hope that a rewrite of the script by its publisher MTI is in the offing in the near future.
My personal feelings about the script aside, the show was indeed entertaining. The beautiful Lago Vista High School Theatre is perfect for big productions like this one and makes me wish there were many more such venues available in the Austin area. Artistic Director Barbara Graham has done a brilliant job in putting all the elements together. The cast is excellent and incredibly talented down to the many young performers on stage. Cast standouts include Suzanne Orzech as Tiger Lily, her voice is wonderful and her leadership of the tribe is perfection. Tim Keating and Buddy Novak as Captain Hook and Smee are a perfectly matched comic duo; their schtick is absolutely hilarious. But it's Reagan Dunford in the title role who captures our hearts with every song in her clear, beautiful voice. She embodies Peter's puckish sense of humor and shows true warmth and love for the lost boys. The actual flying that the show requires was handled perfectly, the actors in control at every moment; it's a skill that is much more difficult than it looks and requires a professional backstage hand to insure the actors aren't injured. The remainder of the tech team who moved giant sets during the two intermissions, did a monumental job. Set Designer Greg McCullough's work is stellar. Every set piece was perfect for the Darling House, the sumptuous Victorian look was soft and welcoming. His Neverland set had several surprise elements that gave the setting both depth and height. Captain Hook's ship The Jolly Roger was the cherry on the cake, with a high quarterdeck, aft cabins added yet another dimension to the ousting set. Choreography by Alicia Vossler is neat and well done. The group choreography was my favorite, with everyone in sync even the smallest child. Leonard McCormick's Music Direction is very well done indeed. Every voice was heard, and nary a sour note (with the exception of the pirates, who aren't supposed to sing so well) for the whole show. The small live orchestra was just wonderful, they all looked delighted to be playing for such a great production.
This was my first trip to Lago Vista to review a show by the Lake Travis Music Theatre, I can promise it will not be my last. My 5 year old grandson, when asked what his favorite part of the play was said, "Everything I loved it all!" His 10 year old sister declared the singing and dancing were her favorite, "but most of all Peter Pan!" A show that can keep them in their seats for over 2 and a half hours must be amazing. PETER PAN has captured the hearts of children and adults for 113 years and while it's content may need some adjustment, the heartwarming story should go on entertaining generations for a long time to come.
Photos by Nickell Photography
Lake Travis Music Theatre
June 16-19, June 23-26, 2017
For more information and upcoming performances : ltmt.org