BWW Review: PETER PAN Soars High at Dutch Apple
Who doesn't love fun? There's not much more fun to be had than in childhood. Except, perhaps, being able to fly. Or, maybe, being a pirate. Or having a big dog that's with you all the time. That's pretty cool, too. And all of this is exactly why J.M. Barrie's book, PETER PAN, and its various stage and film versions have captivated people for over a century. Who wants to grow up and pay taxes, when there's childhood adventure to be had instead? Knowing what you know of life as an adult, isn't the idea of being able to refuse to grow up, and to fly and to battle pirates instead a major temptation?
Of course it is, and rarely has it been more loved than in Carolyn Leigh's adaptation that was worked over by Jule Styne and by Comden and Green. The Mary Martin/Cyril Ritchard vehicle and its later productions have fascinated audiences for decades. On stage now at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, it soars not only in its flying feats but musically as well. Eschewing the Mary Martin convention, Peter is played by a male, Gavin Juckette, who makes Peter every bit the "I won't grow up" character that our hero professes to be. He has not only a fine singing voice but an ability to project the sort of wide-eyed innocence that has never heard the phrase "Presidential election" or "tax return," the sort that knows that being sprinkled with fairy dust and thinking of Christmas will indeed make you able to fly through the air.
His dazzled substitute mother, the young Wendy Darling, is Jesse Jacobson, who manages to keep an audience convinced that she wouldn't simply kill someone who asked her to cook for and tell bedtime stories to a cluster of Lost Boys not much younger than she is purely for the adventure of it all. But Peter and the Lost Boys aren't the only ones who think they could use a mother. So does that slimiest, foulest, most evil of all fiendish villains, Captain Hook. Joel Stigliano is a Hook among Hooks, who plainly understands that the only way to play Hook is to go over the top and then some. Hook is a character straight out of British pantomime traditions, and Stigliano gives Hook that needed comedically super-villainous quality. That quality especially shows in Hook's big scene, "Hook's Waltz," when he demands of the ship's crew, and, by extension, the audience, to proclaim him the most villainous villain who has ever villained. More adorable evilness can only be achieved by an entire basket full of naughty kittens.
The secondary characters are also well cast. Megan Orlowski is a lovely Mrs. Darling, and Kelsey Schergen is an outstanding Tiger Lily, native leader of Neverland, who gives some beautifully balletic movement to director Amy Marie McCleary's choreography. An especial delight, however, is Rendell DeBose as Smee, the pirate boatswain, who thoroughly admires his fearless leader, Hook. Smee is one of the great comic sidekicks of musical theatre, and DeBose clearly appreciates this truth.
Not only does this production boast a fine cast, but some absolutely outstanding costuming by John P. White. Peter Pan's costume is particularly splendid, and as the cast tends to appear in the lobby after performances, it should be appreciated up close; it's a beautifully worked collection of hand pieced fabric leaves and materials, elegant in its effort to appear simple and rustic. Captain Hook is bedecked in magnificent pirate finery, and his merry band of brigands sports clothing suggesting that they have been assembled from around the world to crew the fiercest pirate ship on the seven seas. The ship set is equally lavish, and enough to make one long to take on imaginary piracy as an attractive job option.
And yes, of course, Peter, Wendy, and John and Michael fly. Fairy dust is sported lavishly. Tinkerbell is present, in all her light-beam glory, waiting to see who believes. If you don't believe in Tinkerbell, turn in your "fun" card, because you have forgotten how to have fun.
All in all, a summer show doesn't get more entertaining than PETER PAN, either for children or for adults, and no excuse is ever needed to go see it. It's even better to see as a family show - not for the kiddies, but for you. Children will remind even the most jaded adult of how to enjoy watching pirates, and people flying, and fairies.
And really, in a world of elections and taxes, isn't that what you really need?
At Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre through August 12. Visit DutchApple.com for tickets and information.