BWW Reviews: Carefree PETER PAN Soars at ARTPARK

Carefree Peter Pan Soars

Whether you grew up with Mary Martin , Sandy Duncan or Cathy Rigby flying on your TV screen or on a stage near you, children and adults alike still love escaping with the boy who never grew up. Neverland and it's inhabitants of Lost Boys, Indians and Pirates is usually a sure fire chance for a light hearted evening. Happily Artpark's 2015 polished musical offering of PETER PAN is flying high, and for all the right reasons.

Stage director Randall Kramer and choreographer Lynne Kurdziel Formato have assembled a spectacular cast, from it's professional Equity leading players down to the youngest of all those talented kids. PETER PAN is by no means a simple undertaking of a musical, employing multiple technical challenges, including flying 4 characters simultaneously while scenery is moving, fog machines blasting and a temperamental fairy named tinkerbell flitting around the stage.

Production values are high. The sets (designed by John Lacovelli) are those employed for the last Broadway revival with Ms. Rigby, while costumes by Shigeru Yagi are stunning. Rarely can you hear a classic musical accompanied by a full orchestra these days-- including many currently running Broadway shows that have been reduced to a 5-7 piece band. Happily the score by Moose Charlap and Jule Styne is played in it's full lush orchestration, and gracefully handled in this production under the direction of Jason Bravo

Hayley Podschun plays Peter. Imagine a delightful cross between Debbie Reynolds with a bit of Tammy Grimes, and you get an idea of the charm and innocence that Podschun brings to the role. Ms. Podschun has Broadway credentials and recently toured the country as Glinda in the National Tour of WICKED. Her strong vocals and dance skills allowed her to place her own stamp on this well known character. Her touching lullaby, "Home Sweet Crow/Distant Melody" with Wendy ( Sarah Blewett), provided a humanizing factor in the relationship between the carefree boy who doesn't know how to express his new found feelings for a real girl. Blewett was charming in her naivete as the eldest of the Darling children, while Samuel Fesmire and Ayden Herreid each shone in their own way

John Bolton as the villainous Captain Hook reveled in his nastiness. Clearly an audience favorite, Bolton struck just the right amount of camp, comedy and disdain. Each of his sneers had the audience sneering right back at him, both young and old. His three musical numbers, all amusingly based on dance motifs including a Tango, Tarantella, and culminated in "Hook's Waltz." Backed by a blustery band of clumsy, yet comical pirates, each number allowed the merry bunch to show off their dance skills. Bolton was most recently seen in the Broadway production of A CHRISTMAS STORY and received a Drama Desk Award nomination for his role as The Old Man. Happily Bolton was able to erase the almost indelible image of the aging Christopher Walken's near comatose portayal of Hook in last seasons NBC TV version of PETER PAN. Mr. Bolton will be seen this fall in the Broadway production of DAMES AT SEA. Special kudos to Hook's simpleton sidekick Smee, endearingly played by Jared Loftin. Loftin was able to squeeze every possible laugh out of this fun character role, and found great humor in each of his lines, as well as what became a hysterical and unexpected dance solo.

The large ensemble was made up of local talent, and for the most part they did strong work. Kramer ensured that each of the Lost Boys appeared to have his own distinct character, and their difference in age and size was maximized completely. Kurdziel Formato's choreography was energetic and culminated in the Act II opener "Ugh-A-Wug," where the Indians and the Lost Boys unite into one big happy family. Beating drums, banging drum sticks, and the learning of Indian dance moves was all blended into a rousing production number, with the talented Podschun dancing front and center with the ensemble. I don't think Mary Martin would have been as adept at dancing in her day as the lively Ms. Podschun.

Sound issues still are an occasional problem in the overly cavernous theatre at Artpark. Unfortunately it seemed that Podschun's microphone was too low for the entire evening, compared to the other characters. Other times microphones were turned on or off inappropriately. This hopefully will be ironed out.

Lastly, any production of PETER PAN must mention the flying, and fly they did. Podschun glided, twisted, flipped and ultimately soared around the stage in her famous "I'm Flying." The 3 darling children were equally as gleeful in their first flying experience. Some of the flying in the fight scenes could have been tighter, but with what I am sure was a relatively short rehearsal period, it was justified in some of it's simplicity.

PETER PAN comes to life on the Artpark Theater stage for eight performances July 30 through August 7, 2015 . Tickets ($55.00-$25.00 child, senior and group discounts and special meet & greet packages available) are on sale now through the Artpark Box Office (1-888-223-6000) online at and , in person Monday-Saturday 10am-4pm, show nights 10am-9pm.

Showtimes: July 30 at 7pm, July 31 at 8pm, August 1 at 2pm, August 2 at 2pm, August 5 at 2pm, August 6 at 2pm & 7pm, August 7 at 8pm.

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From This Author Michael Rabice